World’s weirdest antelope

The saiga antelope is superbly adapted to the harsh conditions of the semi-desert grasslands of Central Asia, which are among the last remaining wilderness areas in Eurasia. These unusual antelopes have a distinctive large, bulbous nose and live in what used to be vast nomadic herds, but sadly their numbers are plummeting and they are now critically endangered.

Saiga antelope facts

  • The saiga’s nose has an unusual structure that is thought to filter out dust in the dry summers
  • The saiga can migrate over distances of up to 1,000 kilometres between summer and winter
  • Saiga herds once numbered in their millions, but the global population has declined rapidly to just thousands
At a glance
Saiga tatarica tatarica
Critically Endangered Critically Endangered
Kazakhstan Kazakhstan





Est. in the wild:

Unknown – recent mass mortality events have rendered previous estimates inaccurate.


Saiga antelopes are extremely distinctive thanks to their bizarre swollen nose, which is thought to filter out dust during dry summers and to warm the cold winter air. Males also have unusual, almost carrot-shaped, horns.


saiga died suddenly in May 2015 within the space of a few days.

1,000 km

Saiga migrate over huge distances between summer and winter.

Conservation story

Despite its ability to endure the extremes of nature, the saiga cannot withstand the increasing threat from human activities, including hunting for its horns (used in Chinese medicine) and meat, and habitat destruction. To make matters worse, the saiga has suffered from a number of mass die-off events, which has seen the loss of hundreds of thousands of antelopes during the past few years, with catastrophic consequences for a species already pushed to the brink by human pressures.

There has been a 95% decline in the number of this unusual and fascinating animal– one of the fastest recorded declines for a mammal.

The saiga is a transboundary species, and its long-term survival will therefore depend on all the range states agreeing to protect it.

How FFI is helping to save the saiga

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is working with the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) and the Kazakhstan government to help secure the future of this critically endangered antelope.

Together we are conserving the Ustyurt saiga population, the smallest and most at-risk from poachers, who target males for their horns for use in traditional Asian medicines.

We are monitoring the distribution and movement of saiga, establishing and training new teams of rangers and sniffer dogs to detect and discourage illegal trade in saiga horn, and raising awareness of the antelope’s importance within communities.

In 2022 the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, a collaborative project between FFI, ACBK, the Government of Kazakhstan, RSPB and Frankfurt Zoological Society, was announced by the United Nations as one of ten “World Restoration Flagship” projects. The initiative is based across the species’ roaming range, spanning 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. The award is the first of its kind, and is reserved for the ten best examples of large-scale ecosystem restoration around the globe.