The Saiga antelope (Saiga spp.) is a migratory ungulate of the steppes and semi-deserts of Eurasia. Until the late 1980s, more than a million saigas roamed the arid regions of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, saiga populations declined by more than 95 per cent within a decade - primarily due to poaching for the species’ meat and horn, the latter being used in Chinese Traditional Medicine. This population collapse was one of the fastest observed for a large mammal in recent decades. Five populations remain to date, two of which are transboundary. In mid-2015, a catastrophic mass mortality event saw the deaths of 134,000 saiga in Kazakhstan, thought to be the result of an outbreak of disease caused by a number of different pathogens. This mass die-off event further threatens this Critically Endangered species and is likely to greatly increase poaching pressure on the remaining populations.
Throughout saiga Range States it is illegal to hunt saiga, yet poaching remains the primary threat to the species. Urgent action is required to stabilize and restore populations throughout the species’ range. In 2002, all saiga populations, excluding those in Mongolia, were listed on CMS Appendix II; the Mongolian saiga population being added in 2008. The saiga has been listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1995, primarily to address the illegal trade in saiga horn. CITES and CMS work closely together to contribute towards the international conservation of this flagship species of the Eurasian steppes.
Conservation efforts for this species are critically dependent on international collaboration between the Range States and beyond. Several populations are transboundary and the length of the species’ migrations between its summer and winter ranges can exceed 1,000 km north to south. To coordinate conservation measures throughout such a large range, close collaboration between Range States, States where saiga horn is consumed, NGOs, scientists, local people and the international community at large is required.