Wildlife experts have been looking for explanations as to why 60,000 saiga antelope deaths occurred in the course of four days in central Kazakhstan.
A team of international scientists visited Kazakhstan in May earlier this year to observe a herd of saigas, a highly endangered type of antelope. The researchers were to monitor the calving of the animals. At that time they already reported a few deaths.
Steffen Zuther, geoecologist at the Atlyn Dala Conservation Initiative, declared that over the last few year small amounts of saiga deaths have been reported all across the world. So his team was not surprised when they have witnessed a few die-offs on their expedition. But little did the team know that a massive death toll was prepared for them. After one month the deaths had come to an end.
The eating habits of saiga antelopes are very important to the ecosystem because they recycle organic matter back into the soil. It helps wildfire prevention since the antelopes eliminate the excess of leaves and other particles that could ignite from the ground.
The incident is disastrous considering the small population of saigas that still roam the Earth. There were only a few herds on the territory of Kazakhstan, and only a heard in Russia and Mongolia. When winter time approaches, the herds usually merge with others and often migrate back to Kazakhstan during the spring and fall. During early summer the herds enter the calving period, and that is where the massive wipe-out from May began.
It was estimated that in the year of 2014, there were 255,000 saigas alive on Earth. Steffan Zuther believes that bacteria infection is the main reason for their deaths. But what is remarkable is how such microbes managed to take out so many lives in such a short amount of time. Zuther claims that the extent of this death toll is unheard of and it has not been observed in the case of any other mammals.
The year before there was another death toll that killed about 12,000 saigas. And the bad news are that these numbers are increasing year by year. The worst part is that veterinarians can intervene only after the antelopes are dying, which makes it nearly impossible to find out what was the cause of their death.
The researchers are trying to determine what triggered this die-off by collecting local plants and insects that regularly feed off the antelopes, such as ticks.
Photo credits: wikipedia