Thursday, 12 November 2015

More than half of saiga antelopes mysteriously die off in two week span

NOVEMBER 5, 2015

by Chuck Bednar
A mysterious event in which tens of thousands of endangered antelopes died off en masse, first observed back in May, was more extensive than previously believed, with experts now saying that more than half of the saiga population may have been wiped out.

Initial estimates had placed the death toll at Betpak-dala in Kazakhstan, the calving grounds of the largest saiga population, at 120,000, according to the New York Times. But aerial observations conducted later in the summer revealed fewer survivors than expected, and now scientists believe that at least 211,000 saigas, or 88 percent of the Betpak-dala population, are dead.

The Guardian reported Tuesday that at least 150,000 adult saiga were buried over a two week span in May. However, researchers admit that the actual death toll is likely far higher, as many bodies were discovered but not added to the total, and that hundreds of thousands of calves that were also killed were not included in the figures.

Is this the end of the line for the saiga antelopes?
Prior to the mass deaths, the estimated global saiga population was estimated to be between 250,000 and 320,000—90 percent of which lived in the affected area. The deaths, which have been blamed on a ordinarily harmless bacteria that suddenly and inexplicably became virulent, has scientists deeply concerned about the future of the antelope species.

“I’ve worked in wildlife disease all my life, and I thought I’d seen some pretty grim things, but this takes the biscuit,” Richard A. Kock from the Royal Veterinary College in London, told theTimes, noting that he and his colleagues believe the combination of climate change and stormy spring weather may have been what transformed the microbe into a deadly pathogen.

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