Saiga Antelope 20 Hartmut Jungius

Saiga Antelope - Saiga tatarica

Family:
Antelopes, Gazelles (Artiodactyla Bovidae Antilopinae)
Status:
Critical Endangered

Join expert team

Taxonomic status

Scientific name

Saiga tatarica

Common name

Saiga Antelope

Synonyms

Saiga, Steppe saiga, Russian Saiga

Comments on the subspecies

All authors except Grubb (2005) include the Mongolian saiga as a subspecies of saiga.

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

Species information

Physical characteristics

Body Length 108-146 cm
Shoulder Height 60-80 cm
Tail Length 6-13 cm
Weight 21-51 kg


The saiga atelope is a very curious looking animal. It is recognizable by an extremely unusual, over-sized, and flexible, nose. Its internal structure is composed of an intricate network of bones, hairs and mucous-secreting glands. During summer migrations it helps filter out dust, kicked up by the herd and cools the animals blood. During the winter it heads up the frigid air before it is taken into the lungs, thereby reducing heat loss in its body.

The eyes are large with a dark brown iris. They are set at the end of bony knobs on either side of its head, giving it a bug-eyed look, and a wide angle to spot potential danger. Their eyesight is keen and they can see long distances. The rounded ears and the tail are short.

New born Saiga close-up

Thin legs support the short round body. Males typically have a head-body length of 123-146 cm, stand 70-80 cm at the shoulder and weigh between 32 and 51 kg. Females are smaller. Their head-body length ranges from 102-125 cm, the height at shoulder from 57-73 cm, and the body-weight from 21-41 kg.

The saiga has a woolly undercoat and an outer coat of coarse, bristly hairs, which protect it from the cold environment it lives in. In the summer it has a cinnamon-buff coat, which is rather thin compared to their winter coats. Their winter coat is almost entirely white and twice as long, and 70% thicker than their summer coat. The hair under its neck tends to be longer; males have a short mane on the neck. The hair on their legs stays short.

Only the males carry horns. These amber-coloured horns are almost translucent, and are tapered, heavily ridged, and very sharp. They can grow up to 55 cm and are valued in the Chinese traditional medicine.

Habitat, behaviour, food and reproduction

Habitat and behaviour

Typical habitat consists of level or gently sloping steppes and semi deserts. They avoid slightly broken terrain, deserts, and bushy and hilly areas. Saiga go into hilly terrain in Mongolia, they move up the slopes in winter even in summer, were they were found around 1500 m and more.

More than 80 species of plants and lichens have been recorded in their diet, especially grasses, genera Stipa, Allium and Anabasis.

They require fairly good watering places and shallow snow cover in winter. They spend most of the time in winter in gravel, sand, and clay deserts, and in summer in semi deserts and rarely, steppes (due to live-stock competition in this habitat).

Ambling is the normal pace. Adults can run up to 80 km/h, lambs (8-15 days old) run at 40-50 km/h. Saiga are good swimmers.

Reproduction and Groupstructure

The rutting season of the saiga is between late November and late december. The species is polygynous. Males will herd together a group of about 12 females, up to 50 females, and mark a breeding territory. While defending it against other males, fierce fights break out. Sometimes ending in the death of one of the males. Huge amounts of energy are spent defending territories, and in extreme winters, 97% of the sexually matures will not survive. Those males that do survive start off on their spring migration in April, forming herds of 10 to 2,000 animals.

Saiga bulls fighting





In late winter/early spring the females gather in large herds and migrate to an appropriate breeding area. Gestation in a saiga last 140 days. Young females will usually give birth to a single lamb the first year, but then have two lambs the following years. Lambs are born at the end of March, beginning April, when all the females have gathered in a herd dropping their calves within a few days. The very short periods of rutting and lambing are adaptations to avoid predation. The calves are weaned at 3 to 4 months. Sexual maturity is 8 months for females and 20 months for males. Saiga live for 6 to 10 years.
Lambing grounds are usually situated near water and in places with sufficient food. Eight to ten days after giving birth, they set out northwards after the males.

Gestation Period 140 days
Young per Birth In the first year 1, subsequently 2 is normal
Weaning At 3-4 months
Sexual Maturity Females at 8 months, males at 20 months
Life span 6-10 years

Once at their summer pastures they break up into smaller groups. Large groups form again in the fall, when the southward migration takes them back to the winter grounds, sometimes over 1,000 km. Saiga move between pasture grounds depending on snow depth (20 cm limiting), drought and rains, which stimulate growth of fresh vegetation.

New born Saiga resting

Predation

Natural enemy of Saiga antelope are Wolf, (Sheperds’)dog, feral dog, Red Fox, Corsac Fox and raptors (e.g. Golden Eagle).
Dogs kill up to 50% of the lambs in Kalmykia. A scientist estimated that dogs kill >10,000 saiga lambs in Betpak-dala each year.

Population size and trends

World population

The world population is estimated between 67,000-72,000 individuals in 2006. Saiga is globally listed as Critical Endangered and this status now applies to both subspecies. In 2010 the world population increased to more than 100,000 animals. Variations in survey efforts and methodology between 2006 and 2010 could influence the differences.

Population trend

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan

Numbers of saiga occurring in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan vary from year to year, depending on the Ustyurt population in Kazakhstan and the severity of the winter.

Former Soviet Union

Saiga populations have dramatically declined in the former Soviet Union, in a very short time period; 1 million in early 1980's to about 90,000 in 2000. The population showed a decline of around 90% over the 10 year period to 2005.

Mongolia

The population suffered also from dramatic fluctuations in Mongolia. The population increased from 3,000 in 1998 to 5,200 in 2000. Numbers dropped in 2000-2002 as a result of severe winters and summer drought. They continued to decline in 2002-2003, due to another severe winter and poaching. Numbers were 1,020 in 2003 and 750 in January 2004. Thanks to increased conservation action, including community based anti-poaching operations, education and cooperation with herder communities, the population started increasing again to approximately 8000 animals in 2010. While the population continues to grow and to spread, the very high number for 2010 are probably the result of an aerial count in 2010, which was more accurate than previous counts based on ground observations (which also confirmed an increase in 2010): see figure below.

Mongolian Saiga trend 1998-2011, Hartmut Jungius

Trend of Mongolian Saiga, 1998-2010

 

AreaNumbersDevelopment
World ~ anno 2010103,400-113,400?
Betpak-dala (Kazakstan)53,400Increasing
Russia, NW pre-caspian/Kalmykia10,000-20,000Stable
Ural (Kazakhstan, Russia)27,100Stable / increasing
Ustiurt (Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) 4,900Decreasing
Mongolia, Shargiin Gobi and Mankhan (Mongolian Saiga)8,000Increasing

Captive populations

MalesFemalesUnknownsBirths (last 12 months)
Centre for Wild Animals of the Republic of KalmykiaUnknownUnknown
Wildlife Conservation breeding center, Gansu, ChinaUnknownUnknown
Moscow Zoo1400
Go back up

Distribution: maps, historical and current

Countries

Landscapes

Interactive map

Saiga tatarica - Saiga Antelope: current main distribution
Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


View Saiga Antelope - current distribution in a larger map

Further map information

 

IUCN Red List Mongolian saga

IUCN Red List Mongolian saga

Historical distribution Saiga antilope


White: historic distribution of the Saiga (Saiga tatarica) 

Green: current distribution of Saiga tatarica tatarica 
Red: current distribution of Saiga tatarica mongolica

Source Wikipwedia, by Altaileopard, after V. G. Heptner: Mammals of the Sowjetunion Vol. I Ungulates. Leiden, New York, 1989 ISBN 9004088741 and E. J. Milner-Gulland et al.: Dramatic decline in saiga antelope populations. Oryx, Vol 35, No 4, October 2001.

Historical distribution

Historical distribution of the saiga included Europe up to Poland, Romania and Hungary, but it has been extinct in Ukraine since at least the mid-1800's.

It became extinct in China sometime during the 1960's or 1970's, and Saiga tatarica tatarica was extirpated in Mongolia about 1960.
The nominate subspecies Saiga tatarica tatarica once occured in the Dzungarian Gobi of south-western Mongolia, but became extinct there about 50 years. The range of the endemic Mongolian subspecies is separated from that of the nominate form by the Altai Mountains.

Current distribution

Mongolia

The saiga is currently found from the steppes and semi-deserts northwest of the Caspian Sea, east to the Shargiin Gobi in western Mongolia. Saiga tatarica mongolica is endemic to Mongolia, while the nominate form Saiga tatarica tatarica occupies the remaining range of the species.

In Mongolia are currently two subpopulations. The main subpopulation is in the Shargiin Gobi, Khusiin Gobi and Durgun Tal in western Mongolia. A small population exists in Mankhan in an area of 20x30 km, south of Khar Us Lake in western Mongolia. During this century, their range in Mongolia has contracted significantly, especially in the southeast, to about 20% of the original range.

Kazakhstan

Current distribution in Kazakhstan covers desert and semi desert areas from the Caspian Sea and Volga River in the west, to Lake Balkhash in the east, and from the Tien Shan Mountains in the south, north to about latitude 50°N. Within this overall range, there are three separate populations: Ural (between the Volga and Ural Rivers in western Kazakhstan); Ustyurt (between the Caspian and Aral Seas); and Betpak-dala (central and eastern Kazakhstan). Each of the three populations occupies separate summer and winter ranges, migrating north or northwest in spring, and south or southeast in autumn. There is also a small, introduced saiga population on Barsakelmes Island in the Aral Sea.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan

Saiga occur only in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan during severe winters when animals from the Kazakhstan population that winter on the Ustyurt Plateau, are forced southwards and reach northern Turkmenistan and northwest Uzbekistan, principally the Sarykamysh Depression.

Russia

The current distribution in Russia is limited to steppes and semi deserts southwest of the Volga River and northwest of the Caspian Sea in the Autonomous Republic of Kalmykia. Current distribution covers only 20,000-25,000 km², a significant reduction from the 100,000-120,000 km² occupied when their range was at its greatest extent in 1957-60. In severe winters, saiga may penetrate south to Dagestan in the eastern Caucasus.

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

Threats

Poaching

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, funding and infrastructure for saiga management has collapsed. This has led to uncontrolled large-scale kills for meat and horns. Another reason for the rapid decline of the population was the very unbalanced sex ratio. As  this has led to a male-biased population, which resulted in a reproductive collapse.

Poached Saiga horns

Habitat degradation, livestock competition and poaching

Throughout most of its former range, the convertion of steppe to agricultural land, competition with livestock (overgrazing by domestic livestock) and hunting/poaching pressure pushed saiga to sub-optimal, semi desert habitat. Population fluctuations are often drastic because of severe winter conditions (dzhut), diseases (particularly pasteurellosis), and forage shortages.

Traditional Chinese medicine

In Kazakhstan, where their numbers are greatest, they are in need of protection because of population declines caused by an increase in illegal hunting, primarily for their horns used in traditional Chinese medicine. They have long been hunted for their meat, hide, and horns; and in Kazakhstan, the annual harvest of 62,000-112,000 animals from licensed hunting has been noticed during recent years.

Hunting pressure

The wintering population is often hunted twice, once in Kazakhstan and once in Uzbekistan (A.A.Luschekina in litt.). Hunting and poaching led to extreme flight distances (up to 2 km) and leads to increased disturbances through vehicles.

Other threats

Other factors that threaten saiga are conversion of rangeland for cultivation, construction of roads, settlements, irrigation canals, and fenced pastures. These may interrupt saiga migration routes and contribute to habitat fragmentation. Overgrazing of the range lands also leads to competition for water sources.

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

Conservation information

IUCN Red List

Critical Endangered: – CR A2acd (2008) Extremely high risk of extinction in the wild

EU habitat directive

-

CITES

II (Saiga.t.t) I (Saiga t.m.)

EU Wildlife trade regulation EC Reg. 338/97

B

Bern convention

-

Bonn convention

II

Conservation status

An MOU on saiga conservation came into force under the CMS in 2006, signed by the governments of Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

A medium term work programme (Action plan concerning conservation, restoration and sustainable use of the Saiga Antelope - Saiga tatarica tatarica) was agreed which lists priority actions for the species as a whole and for the individuals populations - in English and Russian (CMS 2010).

In Mongolia saiga are legally protected since 1930 and included in the Mongolian Red Book. Two nature reserves were designated in 1993 to conserve saiga populations in western Mongolia.

Socio-economic aspects

Hunted for skin, hide and horns (Chinese medicine).

 

Conservation organisations and important websites

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

Project information

Title

Mongolia

Year, Organisation

,

Description

WWF Mongolia – Saiga conservation program (2007-on-going)
Goals:
1) establish community based law enforcement
2) reduce pressure on saiga and its habitat
3) raise support for saiga conservation through a well focused education and awareness program

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

Library

Network meetings

Posters and illustrations

Presentations

Reports

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

Recommendations, remarks and advice

Policy and Politics

International

Efficient anti-poaching activities, habitat restoration and collaboration in developing a system of environmental partnership, including research on biology and ecology of the species, protected area management and establishment, rangeland management, policy development, training and capacity building, associated with current conservation activities.

Protection team in Mongolia

Protection team in Mongolia

Protection team in Mongolia

Further work on captive-breeding of Saiga is vital to facilitate reintroduction to former areas of their range.

Breeding Centre KalmykiaBreeding Centre KalmykiaBreeding Centre Kalmykia

 

 

National

National policy and politics, recommendations to add.

Official saiga protection activities in Kalmykia

Local

Local policy and politics

 

Species Management

Efficient anti-poaching activities, habitat restoration and collaboration in developing a system of environmental partnership, including research on biology and ecology of the species, protected area management and establishment, rangeland management, policy development, training and capacity building, associated with current conservation activities. Further work on captive-breeding of saiga is vital to facilitate reintroduction to former areas of their range.

Scientific

A uniform scientifically sound monitoring system should be developed and used throughout the saiga range.

Spatial Requirements

Regional 1

Physical barriers need to be overcome to allow migration.

Area Management

Region 1

Reduce the number of new vehicle routes passing through the saiga’s range to prevent disturbance. The current network of protected areas should be expanded to ensure adequate protection. Within the protected areas an efficient ranger/guard system should be in place. To establish seasonal or temporary nature sanctuaries (zakazniks) in saiga calving areas and in winter and summer ranges; as much as 200.000 ha should be excluded from agricultural use (Zhirnov and Maksimuk 1994). A protected area should be created in northern Dagestan.

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

Experts and scientific referees

IUCN SSC

For more detailed information view the 'Saiga Antelope - Saiga tatarica' page on to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

Batbayar, Nyambayar

Eurasian Black Vulture, Himalayan Vulture, Mongolian Saiga. Mongolia
Wildlife science and conservation center of Mongolia
www.wscc.org.mn

Buuveibaatar, Bayarbaatar

Antelope Conservation in Mongolia
Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
eco.umass.edu/people/graduate-students/bayarbaatar-buuvei/

Chimeddorj, Buyanaa

WWF Mongolia

Jungius, Hartmut

Member of ECNC Scientific Council
WWF international

Krever, Vladimir

Species officer
WWF Russia

Kuemmerle, Tobias

Effects of land use and climate change on wildlife; resilience and sustainability of landscapes; large herbivores: European bison, reindeer, moose, saiga antelope and wild boar.
Geography Department, Humboldt-University Berlin
www.hu-berlin.de

Lkhagvasuren, Badamjav

WWF Mongolia

Lushchekina, Anna

large mammals in Central Asia
Senior Scientific Researcher; Russian MAB Committee
www.lhnet.org/assets/pdf/LHIbrowser05.QXD.pdf

Mallon, David

Michel, Stefan

Mountain ungulates
NABU, Germany, Mountain Ungulates Project in Tajikistan
www.wildlife-tajikistan.org/

Milner-Gulland, E.J.

Saiga Conservation Alliance in Uzbekistan
Imperial College London
www.iccs.org.uk/saigas

Pereladova, Olga

WWF Central Asia Regional programme. Scientific research on acoustic communication, behaviour, ecology, conservation and restoration.
WWF Russia
www.wwf.ru/eng

Singh, Navinder

Large mammals; Central and South Asia, Europe; Biodiversity Offsets, Business and Biodiversity
Imperial College London, U.K.
www.bio-demography.org/navinder.html

Zimmermann, Waltraut

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

Sources

Berger, Joel., Murray Berger, Kim., Bergen, Scott., Buuveibaatar, Bayarbaatar., Fine, Amanda., Lkhagvasuren, Badamjav., Young, Julie K., and Zahler, Peter

2008a, Migration bottlenecks, climate, and the conservation of Pleistocene relicts in Central Asia, The Open conservation Biology Journal, 2: 9-10

Berger, Joel., Young, Julie K., and Murray Berger, Kim.

2008b, Protecting migration corridors: Challenges and optimism for Mongolia saiga, PLoS Biology, 6 (7) 2 e165

Baskin, L., and Danell, K.

2003, Ecology of ungulates: a handbook ofspecies in Eastern Europe and Northern and Central Asia

Mallon, D., and Kingswood, S.

2001, Antelopes. Part 4: North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, SSC Antelope Specialist Group IUCN, Global Survey and Regional Action Plans

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up

All comments on Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica)

Post your comment

Only users with an account can post comments.

  • If you have an account login by clicking here.
  • If you like to participate in the discussion, you can request an account by contacting LHNet. Please provide a short description of your background with your request.

Go back up