The global saiga antelope population has declined by over 95% over the last 20 years – one of the fastest recorded declines for a mammal.
FFI is a partner in the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative (ADCI), a joint initiative delivered together with the Association for the Conservation of the Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), the Committee of Forestry and Wildlife of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The goal of ADCI is the conservation and restoration of steppe, semi-desert and desert ecosystems and their species in Kazakhstan.
All of FFI’s activities are delivered through our local operational partner ACBK. Together we are focusing efforts to address the decline of the saiga antelope on the Ustyurt Plateau. This is home to the most remote and threatened of the saiga populations. A temperate desert lying between the Caspian and Aral Seas, the Ustyurt covers an area of about 200,000 km2 shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Conservation activities on the Ustyurt include the monitoring of saiga movement through satellite collaring and telemetry study, promotion of greater awareness of the plight of the saiga and support for its conservation through educational activities including the establishment of school eco-clubs on the plateau and the promotion of an annual ‘saiga day’.
In May 2015, a devastating mass die-off in Kazakhstan (the Betpak-dala population), caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida (the causative agent of haemorrhagic septicaemia) resulted in the loss of over 75% of the global adult saiga population in less than a month. FFI provided emergency funding support to enable ACBK and the UK Royal Veterinary College to respond to the emergency and to develop appropriate mitigation and management responses to any future such events.
In 2017, we supported the establishment of a new independent ranger team on the Ustyurt Plateau. The team monitors saiga movements and liaises with state ranger teams and local people to coordinate improved anti-poaching effort to reduce the illegal killing of saiga. As the horns from male saiga are used in Asian medicine, they are highly susceptible to illegal poaching, the main threat to the Ustyurt saiga today. Beyond the Ustyurt we are directly addressing illegal trade in saiga horns by working with customs, border and police authorities to improve their capacity to monitor and prevent illegal wildlife products being traded both within Kazakhstan and across the national border. This includes the provision and training of sniffer dogs.
We are grateful for financial support from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Species Fund and the Disney Environmentality Award.