Animal of the Month
April 2018

Name: Saiga Antelope (AKA Saiga, Mountain Saiga

Classification:
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidea
Genus: Saiga
Species: S. tatarica
Subspecies: S. t. tatarica, S. t. mongolica


Size: Males 27-31 inches tall at the shoulder and 48-57 inches
long, females 22-28 inches tall at the shoulder and 42-49 inches long.
Weight: Males 60-110lbs, females 46-88lbs.

Characteristics: Quadruped, standing on thin legs. Possesses deer-like ears, a small "mane" under its neck and thin fur that thickens during winter. Males possess riveted horns on their heads. Possesses a tapir-like mouth. And a very short tail.
Color: Brown in summer, white in winter. Behavior: Diurnal, lives in migratory herds. Preferred Habitat: Dry steppe and semi-desert grasslands.
Range: Central and western Kazakhstan, north-western Uzbekistan, southern Russia and small pockets of western Mongolia.
Diet: Grasses, shrubs, lichen and herbs.
Lifespan: 6-10 years

Status: CRITICALLY ENDANGERED!

They look like creatures right out of Star Wars, but that's the beauty of nature: it's often stranger than fiction! The saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) is a denizen of the steppes and arid plains of central Asia. There are two subspecies: S. t. tatarica, which lives in Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan, and S. t. mongolica, which lives in western Mongolia.

Saiga have been known to man for centuries, but it was not until 1766 that they were given their scientific name. For a time the antelope puzzled scientist as they struggled how exactly to classify it; eventually it was determined that the saiga is most likely a missing link between antelopes and sheep! Like many ante-lope species, saiga are hoofed creatures that feed on grass and other plains vegeta-tion. The males sport large riveted horns, which they use for defense and to com-pete with other males. Most striking however is the saiga's inflatable bulbous nose, which resembles that of a tapir.

Typically saiga live in herds of up to 50 individuals. They do not have any fixed territory and will wander for miles every day. During the fall they will mi-grate south for the winter in groups that number in the tens of thousands! This is one of the largest animal migrations in the world!

In winter the saiga's coat changes from brown to brownish-white. In No-vember males' noses will swell as they begin to rut. The males will fight fiercely for the right to mate with whole herds of females. The intense fighting and the severe winter cold unfortunately leads to a high rate of mortality among the males. In April the males that have survived will migrate north again. The females will lag behind until they give birth to their calves, usual one or two at a time, and then travel north by the thousands. After 3-4 months the calves will have weaned themselves off of their mother's milk and begin to eat plants like the adults.

Saiga antelope are critically endangered. As far back as the Ice Age they lived across Euraisa from Britain to China. There is also evidence that in the Pleistocene they existed in Alaska and possibly Canada. Climate change coupled with overhunting has cut the saiga's population significantly. In the 1960s a saiga population in China reportedly went extinct. After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, unregulated hunting skyrocketed and has pushed these creatures to the brink of extinction. One reason they are hunted is for their horns, which are falsely believed to act as an aphrodisiac when ground up. As is the case with other animals like tigers, pangolins and seahorses, there is ZERO scientific evidence for these so-called medical benefits! They are also hunted for their meat by impoverished people who struggle to find food. In addition, saiga are threatened by oil and gas exploration, which disrupts their migrations.

Some estimate that there are as few as 40,000 saiga antelope left in the wild. For decades, scientists and conservationists have moved heaven and earth to preserve this unique species. The World Wildlife Fund has campaigned for the saiga since 1994 and helped to include the species in Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Saiga are also listed under Appendix II of CITES, which severely limits the trade of the animals. The Saiga Conservation Alliance works to conduct research on saiga populations and helps local citizens devise solutions to the problem of their decline.

To learn more about the saiga antelope and to help protect them, look into these fantastic organizations!

Saiga Conservation Alliance-Dedicated to spreading awareness of and protec-tion for the saiga antelope.
http://saiga-conservation.org

World Wildlife Fund, Saiga page-The WWF's campaign to protect the saiga continues to this day!
http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/saiga_antelope/

World Conservation Society China, Saiga page-The WCS maintains a pres-ence in China, working with locals to study, protect and reintroduce the saiga antelope.
https://china.wcs.org/Wildlife/Saiga-Antelope.aspx

 

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