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Addressing the decline of critically endangered saiga antelope


The global saiga antelope population has declined by over 95% over the last 20 years – one of the fastest recorded declines for a mammal.

Fauna & Flora 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 initiative spans 75 million hectares of Kazakh steppe and desert. Visible from space, a series of connected protected areas conserves the habitat of the saiga antelope and other globally important wildlife. In 2022 the initiative was selected as one of ten World Restoration Flagship projects, which the United Nations deems to be model examples of large-scale ecosystem restoration around the globe.

All of Fauna & Flora’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. Fauna & Flora 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 monitoring and public awareness team on the Ustyurt Plateau. The team monitors saiga movements and liaises with state ranger teams and local people to support the improvement of anti-poaching efforts 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.