Saving the golden antelope

11.08.2020

Saiga antelope is the oldest representative of the mammoth fauna. Back in the 50s and 60s of the last century, the number of these animals on the territory of the Republic of Kalmykia reached over 500 000. By the time when the State Natural Biosphere Reserve "Chernye Zemli" was formed (June 11, 1990), there were 160 000 of these animals. But, unfortunately, because of the poaching, their number had decreased down to 3500. The main target of poaching is the horns of males. For this reason, the age and sex structure was disrupted (in 2015, a critically small proportion of adult sexually mature males was observed in the population - less than 1%), which entailed an undermining of the reproductive capacity of the population. In 2002, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified this species as "CR", that is, "in critical condition".

 
Thanks to the selfless work of the staff of the “Chernye Zemli” reserve, it was possible not only to preserve these rarest antelopes, but also to gradually increase their numbers. The normal sex and age structure of the population was fully restored. According to expert estimates, by the end of 2020, the population is expected to reach 10 000 animals.

In different years, massive deaths occurred in the populations of these animals, the last of which was recorded in Kazakhstan in 2015, the cause was pasteurellosis caused by the pathogen Pasteurella multocida, as a result about 120 000 animals died.

 
Modern zoos make it their priority to participate in nature conservation projects. This work helps not only to preserve wild animals in their natural habitat, but also to understand the needs that must be taken into account when keeping various species in zoos (feeding, housing conditions, diseases).

The population of saiga antelopes in the “Chernye Zemli” reserve recently has not been studied for the presence of various infectious diseases and parasites. To assess the state of health of the Kalmyk saiga antelope population, Moscow Zoo together with the “Chernye Zemli” reserve is doing such research for the first time.

 
This early August, Moscow Zoo employees S.A. Khlyupin (scientific department) and M.V. Tokunova (veterinary department), together with S.A. Bogun, the deputy director for scientific work of the reserve " Chernye Zemli ", have been working within the environmental program  
"The study of the epizootic situation and parasitic diseases in the saiga antelope population of the North-Western Caspian region in the State Natural Biosphere reserve "Chernye Zemli". During their field trips, they were searching for the animals that died of natural causes to collect biological material for research, some of which were sent to the laboratory.

 
Thanks to the results obtained, it will be possible to assess the health of the animal population of the North-Western Caspian region, the presence of infectious diseases, parasites and other problems, and in the future, be ready to solve these problems.

S.A. Khlyupin

Head of Scientific Department of Moscow Zoo