Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years work within zoos.
World Saiga Day
World Saiga Day has been celebrated each year since 2011 but has been observed locally in schools in Uzbekistan since 2008. The early date in May corresponds with the birth of the springtime calves. In 2022 World Saiga Day is on the 6th May.
The Saiga antelope Saiga tatarica is a critically endangered small antelope which lives and ranges across the steppes of the Caucasas to Mongolia. The male is famous for his bulbous and rather comical nose.
Living in small herds numbering up to fifty or so but increasing to tens of thousands especially during migration when they wander in search of grazing.
The population was estimated to be around one million animals in 1980 but dropping to less than 200,000 by 2000. The species has had a lot going against them. They have always been hunted for their meat, skins and horns. Seeing the plight of the Rhinoceros whose horns were being taken for Chinese traditional medicine the WWF suggested that Saiga horn, as Saiga were so numerous, may be a better alternative. This led to large scale Saiga hunting, and as only the males have horns, created a population imbalance.
As if things were not already bad enough for the Saiga there then came a series of epidemics which killed huge numbers of animals. One such epidemic in 2015 killed 150,000 animals in just two weeks in May. Although the cause of death is known (pasteurellosis) it has been indirectly attributed to climate change.
Today they have to contend with pipelines and fencing stretching across their migratory route. Unable to complete their journey some animals will starve to death.
Happily the The Saiga Conservation Alliance are aware of the problems facing this remarkable animal and work towards its continued survival.
Saiga female and calf
Mainly give birth to twins but triplets are not unusual.
Calves will suckle from females other than their mothers.
Run at speeds of up to 50 mph.
A single horn may be illegally traded for over $4,000.
Very rare in captivity but I am lucky to have worked with a small breeding group.