Population of saiga antelopes hit records in Kazakhstan

The country’s government wants to regulate the population of the animals

Over the past decade, the number of saiga antelopes in Kazakhstan soared sixtyfold, thanks to large-scale conservation efforts by the government. At the moment, there are 1.3 million saiga specimens in the country. According to the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, this number is too big as the animals can harm farms located all over the massive plains. That’s why the ministry decided to place saiga antelopes on the list of regulated animals. However, the agency hasn’t taken any decision about the hunting of saiga.

As the ministry announced, the animals that were considered endangered for years, are no longer in danger. The government imposed tight control over the population of saiga in 2003 when the number of the antelopes declined to the minimal rate of 21,000 specimens. Thanks to the moratorium on hunting the number of saigas reached 152,000 in 2017 and 1.3 million in 2022. The ministry believes that the optimal number of animals is 770,000 specimens.

“Currently, saiga antelopes and livestock are competitors for grazing fields and drinking places. Moreover, farmers report many cases of crops destroyed by the antelopes. For example, the square of agricultural land in the West Kazakhstan region increase threefold over the past 15 years. At the same time, the number of saiga antelopes in the region has risen 53-fold (from 15,000 to 800,000 specimens). The regions of Aktobe, Kostanay and Karaganda report the same situation,” the ministry said.

In addition, because of the high density of saigas, the risk of a pasteurellosis epidemic is quite big. Seven years ago the authorities were forced to dispose of about 150,000 dead animals in the Akmola and Kostanay regions.

That is the reason agriculture officials suggest lifting the ban on saiga hunting and putting the animal on the list of regulated animals. This list includes such animals as wolves and jackals, the population of which is artificially regulated.

However, there is no clear understanding of how the authorities plan to regulate the number of saiga antelopes in Kazakhstan. The Forestry and Wildlife Committee of the ministry suggests allowing hunting the animal, but people in Kazakhstan stand against hunting endangered animals for the sake of farmers’ interests. Many believe that lifting the hunting ban would cause the uncontrolled extermination of these antelopes. They want the authorities to find another method of animal population regulation. For example, the government may create a special reservation for saigas or even donate some animals to foreign countries.

The committee has taken into account these public comments and said that it is going to improve its proposal. The ministry also revealed that it is looking for other options for the saiga population regulation that would be appropriate and based on scientific justification.

The issue of reservation of saiga antelopes in Kazakhstan is complicated due to the high demand for saiga racks in the black market in Asia. This drives poachers to hunt saiga illegally.

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