I have written about the endangered saiga antelope before. See Teetering On The Brink But Still Cause For Hope (that's sarcasm in the title). And now there is Kazakhstan’s ecological mystery: Why have over 100,000 saiga antelopes died in just a few weeks? (Washington Post, May 29, 2015)
As a species, saiga antelopes have endured a lot. They once roamed the Earth with Wooly Mammoths during the last Ice Age and but were almost driven to extinction by a loss of habitat and hunting during the late-20th century. Now the distinctive animals, easily distinguished by their large noses and prized for their meat and horns, are considered an endangered species and protected by the government of Kazakhstan.
Around May 10, however, they began dying en masse. Now, in just a few weeks, vast numbers of the species been found dead – Kazakhstan officials have said that almost 121,000 carcasses have been counted, according to Reuters, a number officials from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have confirmed.
For an endangered species, this is dramatic, if not catastrophic. Kazakhstan's has around 90 percent of the world's saiga population, which was estimated to be around 250,000 before the deaths began. Experts are clearly shocked. "It is very painful to witness this mass mortality," Erlan Nysynbaev, vice minister of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, said.
"It's very dramatic and traumatic, with 100 per cent mortality," Richard Kock of the Royal Veterinary College told the New Scientist this week from Kazakhstan. "I know of no example in history with this level of mortality, killing all the animals and all the calves," Kock added, noting that the animals die after respiratory problems and extreme diarrhea.