Last year, more than 200,000 Saiga Antelope dropped dead in central Kazakhstan over a matter of days. The landscape was covered with thousands of dead antelope, consisting of mothers with calves and scientists could not figure out the culprit for quite some time. Saiga Conservation Alliance has now finally narrowed down the possible causes to a normally benign bacteria suddenly becoming deadly.
When the news of the mass dying of Saiga antelope first came out, no one realized the full extent of the deaths, estimating that around tens of thousands antelope had died but the truth was far more shocking. In reality, it is thought that as much as 88 percent of the antelope from the Betpak-dala desert of Kazakhstan succumbed, accounting for roughly 70 percent of the entire global population of the already endangered antelope.
Most shockingly, the herds showed up to 100% mortality, leaving only a few groups of animals alive
Now, after continued analysis of samples taken from the carcasses of the saiga, multiple laboratories have come to the same conclusion and identified the bacterium Pasteurella multocida as the cause. The bacteria that normally lives in the animal’s respiratory tract and doest not affect them somehow became deadly, leading to haemorrhagic septicaemia.
The symptoms of the condition include a high fever, salivation, and shortness of breath, followed by death within 24 hours, which is exactly what has happened in Kazakhstan.
The most unusual occurence was the nearly 100 percent mortality rate seen in the saiga herds. With the majority of herds dying, only a few groups of animals were left alive, mostly males, which separate from the larger herds. Scientists believe it could be related to earlier suggestions that unusual weather conditions may have been stressing the animals, many of which were mothers who had just given birth.
As the Saiga Conservation Alliance says, the investigation into the animals’ deaths is still ongoing, with questions such as these still to clear up. With a next calving season creeping up, many biologists are waiting with baited breath to see what will occur.
Before the mass dying, the antelope numbers stood at around 300,000
They were previously heavily hunted, mainly for their horns, which were used as a replacement for rhino in traditional medicine. In a terrible case of poor lack of judgement, the WWF is thought to have had a hand in the decline of the species during the 1990s.
Sadly, even though the hunting has stopped, they are now even more at risk than at any other time.
H/T to iflscience