Kazakh reserve set aside as haven for saiga antelope

Nur-Sultan, May 31 (EFE).- A nature reserve in western Kazakhstan will provide further protection for the saiga antelope, an endemic species whose numbers plunged by more than 90 percent in the late 20th century but that has recently made a comeback.

“The creation of the Bokeyorda nature reserve is a new important step in further restoring the saiga population in Kazakhstan,” Ayan Meirash, spokesperson for the Central Asian nation’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources’ forestry committee, told Efe.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced in a meeting with Ecology Minister Magzum Mirzagaliev the decision to assign 657,000 hectares of land to the Bokeyorda and Ashiozeks nature reserves in western Kazakhstan to facilitate that bovid’s migration.

Saiga numbers fell from more than one million in 1990 to just over 21,000 in 2003, Ecology Ministry spokesperson Samal Ibraeva told Efe.

In 2002, this species whose horns are highly valued in Chinese medicine was included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red List” of critically endangered animals.

“The main reasons for the population decline of this species were diseases and poaching,” Ibraeva explained.

However, in the past two years, the population of this rare type of antelope, which has the scientific name saiga tatarica and is known for its distinctive oversized nose, has almost doubled – from 334,000 to 842,000 – thanks to a series of conservation measures, Mirzagaliev said.

The vast majority of saiga antelopes live in Central Asia’s largest country, although that species also can be found in southern Russia and Uzbekistan.

Ibraeva pointed out that in 2005 the Kazakh government adopted its first program for the conservation of the saiga and other rare and endangered ungulate species, an initiative that focused on the protection of these animals in breeding areas and during winter and migration seasons.

In addition, the Irgiz-Turgaysky (in the western region of Aktobe) and the Altyn Dala (in the northern region of Kostanay) state nature reserves were established.

The measures taken by the Kazakh government to protect the saiga population included outlawing poaching in 2012 (extended until 2023), with penalties of up to 12 years in prison and the confiscation of property.

The horns of the saiga antelope are coveted in traditional Chinese medicine to cure all kinds of diseases and can be valued at up to $5,000 (roughly 4,090 euros) apiece, thus providing a clear economic incentive for poaching and the black market. EFE


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