Update: More than 27,000 Saigas Confirmed Dead: CMS Sends Out Emergency Expert Mission

Bonn, 21 May 2015- In response to a request from Kazakhstan, the CMS Secretariat is sending out an expert mission today to strengthen work to identify the cause of the current saiga die-off. Latest official reports confirm that more than 27,000 adult saiga antelopes have died in the Betpak-dala population. The expert mission will now follow up on fresh reports that another part of the Betpak-dala population towards the west in Aktobe oblast may also be affected.

“We are very concerned by the scale and speed at which saiga antelopes are dying in central Kazakhstan,“ says Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species.

“We are working closely with the authorities and experts on the ground to identify the cause of this catastrophe and to guide action appropriately. Experts are currently being flown in and we are trying hard to mobilize funds in support.”

The CMS Secretariat has learned that more than 500 people with almost 100 cars are assisting the emergency response in Kostanay oblast in central Kazakhstan. Authorities and experts have been working closely together to investigate the situation and to minimize any potential risk of the infection spreading. The Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), one of the key partners providing technical coordination for the CMS Saiga MOU, has been at the site in Kostanay from the onset of the mass mortality event last week and will provide technical assistance to the expert mission.

Samples from the affected saigas as well as the vegetation and soil of the area have been collected and are currently being analysed. "Symptoms of the saiga affected include foam around the mouth and diarrhoea. Primarily adult females and newly born calves have been affected, since mid-May is the period when females aggregate in vast herds to all give birth within a peak period of only one week. It appears that one or several large birth aggregations have been eradicated", says Aline Kühl-Stenzel, Terrestrial Species Officer at the CMS Secretariat.

The mass die-off destroys hope that the Betpak-dala population has once again reached a stable level. Population figures for 2014 estimated the size of this population around 200,000 animals, with perhaps a total of 260,000 saigas in the whole of the range. These numbers will now have to be dramatically revised and conservation action will have to be significantly strengthened as a result.

The CMS Secretariat in close collaboration with the CITES Secretariat is currently preparing a meeting of all five Signatories of the Saiga MOU (Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), as well as consumer countries of saiga products, to review progress and to agree to urgently needed measures, not least related to disease and the Betpak-dala population.

For any questions related to saiga antelopes and the Saiga MOU please contact  Aline Kühl-Stenzel at the Secretariat.

Last updated on 21 May 2015