Saiga antelopes on the grasslands of Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: Rob Field / RSPBAnimals Kazakhstan
From the Brink of Extinction to a Million Antelopes in 20 Years!
The saiga antelope’s impressive comeback in the steppe grassland of Kazakhstan proves restoration efforts pay off since the herbivorous population increased 30-fold in just two decades, reaching 1.3 million.
“This is possibly the largest increase in biomass for any kind of conservation recovery,” states Mark Day, who leads the Kazakh Steppe Conservation Programme at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. “By restoring the antelope as a keystone grazing species, we’re then able to improve the situation for all biodiversity that is dependent on a healthy steppe ecosystem.”
Once on the brink of extinction some 20 years ago with less than 40,000 individuals, the saiga antelope – or saiga tatarica – population reached 250,000 by the mid-2010s, a tenfold increase from the 2005 population. A disease then threatened the fragile population – it went from 250,000 to 130,000 in a few weeks – but since the Kazakh government had reserved some 5 million hectares of the steppe ecosystem over two decades, the antelope had space to reproduce and bounce back. Further land protection and hunting bans since 2015 have contributed to spectacular growth. A drone survey proved that the saiga population has reached 1,318,000 individuals, a 30-fold increase from their 2005 population. The Kazakh people take pride in animal recovery as it is part of their national identity. Through their effort to save saiga antelopes, other species were able to return to the steppe, including the ground-nesting steppe eagle.