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Kazakh kids spot saiga on the steppe

Posted on: 20.07.16 (Last edited) 2 September 2016

A summer camp field trip has given a group of Kazakh children a real-life encounter with an unusual animal that most of us will only ever see in photographs.

A group of young wildlife enthusiasts from western Kazakhstan had the rare opportunity to spot one of the country’s most iconic and Critically Endangered animals – the saiga antelope – thanks to a summer camp field trip run by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK).

The trip, which was supported by Fauna & Flora International, brought together 15 children and four teachers from various wildlife clubs from the Ustyurt Plateau and gave them the chance to visit the Irgiz-Torgay Nature Reserve. As Alyona Krivosheyeva from ACBK explains, “This was a real field camp with tents and yurts – and no civilization within 10 km!”

Campfire. Credit: ACBK.

Real camping. Credit: ACBK.

The main aims of the summer camp were to acquaint children with the wildlife and nature of their motherland, raise awareness about nature protection and promote environmentally-friendly behaviour, but also to unite children from different wildlife clubs and encourage further cooperation.

During the trip, the children were able to learn more about the history of the Ustyurt Plateau and its steppe (grassland) ecosystems, as well as its wildlife. They took part in quizzes and listened to talks by reserve staff about a range of topics such as botanical research, birdwatching and nature protection. They also visited a number of museums and an ancient meteorite crater known as Zhamanshyn that is 14 km in diameter.

Saiga calf. Credit: ACBK/Roland Frey.

Few of us will ever have the chance to see a saiga in the wild. Credit: ACBK/Roland Frey.

“Every day children had very exciting excursions,” says Alyona, “They enjoyed birdwatching and got to see an array of wildlife including marmots, badgers and – most excitingly – three adult saiga with two calves.

“This was the most memorable moment for the children; they were absolutely astonished by these unusual animals!”

All the children and teachers were given commemorative prizes including booklets, magazines, t-shirts, baseball caps, pens and etc. But surely their most treasured possession will be the memory of spotting the family of saiga, browsing the plateau.

This story has been adapted from an article published by ACBK. To read the original (in Cyrillic), you can visit their website.

A note from Paul Hotham, Eurasia Regional Director: “We were very much saddened to hear of the tragic and sudden death of our friend and former colleague, Maria Karlstetter. Maria’s tireless efforts to support saiga conservation on the Ustyurt Plateau helped build a platform for more effective conservation of this Critically Endangered animal today. Our thoughts and condolences are with Maria’s family and friends.”

Written by
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Liesje Birchenough

Liesje is FFI's Eurasia Programme Manager. With a MSc in Conservation, for the last 10 years she has been managing FFI projects in Central Asia, working with local partners to conserve the amazing landscapes, biodiversity and culture of this fascinating region.

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Every day children had very exciting excursions. They enjoyed birdwatching and got to see an array of wildlife including marmots, badgers and – most excitingly – three adult saiga with two calves.

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