How can we save the Saiga?


Newborn saigas in 2010, in Kostanay oblast, the epicenter of the recent mass die off. Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan

In May, in the span of just two weeks, 134,000 Saiga antelope died in Kazakhstan.

The statistics are shocking. All the more so when you realize that 80 percent of the world’s Saiga population live here.

UNDP in Kazakhstan’s biodiversity project has analysed statistical data (shown below) to identify patterns of Saiga antelope die-offs in Kazakhstan over a period of 40 years. Some sources say that such mass deaths were observed in the 19th century; there is evidence that the spikes were even more frequent than now in the 20th century.

Theories abound as to why the mass die-out of Saiga occur. However, comprehensive scientific surveys are required to know the full reason – and to stop it from happening again.

In 2010, 20 global targets were adopted at the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan.

The countries are now completing the upgrade of their strategies with these 20 targets taken into consideration. Kazakhstan has also taken the required steps. A strategy of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity until 2030 was designed in 2014, as part of a UNDP/GEF conservation of biodiversity project.

This strategy calls for a national target on “conserving rare and endangered species,” and it provides for the development of separate programmes on 17 species, including the Saiga antelope.


undp-rbec-local-government-approval-meetingApproval of the borders of the “Altyn Dala” nature reserve with local governance bodies and UNDP. Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan


Unfortunately, after the reformation of the Kazakh Ministry of Environmental Protection, the strategy remained un-adopted. This, however, contravenes the sixth Article of the Convention, which states that all nations that are party to it (Kazakhstan has been a party since 1992) must adopt a national strategy or a concept in biodiversity.

This is the main obstacle on the way towards efficient biodiversity management in Kazakhstan.

If the relevant biodiversity strategy is adopted, Kazakhstan will have a legal foundation to preserve biodiversity on a long-term basis. Creating new specially protected areas and ecological corridors as well as the implementation of action plans to manage certain endangered species will help to maintain biodiversity in Kazakhstan.

Then, without a doubt, we will be able to ensure a system-based control of Saiga antelope populations, which will then help us to substantially reduce the losses observed lately, or prevent the deaths altogether.

The catastrophe which occurred in May has shown that the existing scheme when the Kazakhstan Government invests big amounts of money to protect the Saiga and stock-taking and international donors pour in the money to the monitoring just doesn’t work. The Government of Kazakhstan, national research institutes, representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Royal Veterinary College of London and Frankfurt Zoological Society are puzzled and are trying to find out the reason behind such massive loss of the Saiga. The world community on conservation of biodiversity is completely bewildered with the loss.

Meanwhile, this is not the first and, as is absolutely clear now, not the last incident of Saiga deaths.

undp-rbec-saiga-graphDeaths graphs made based on media reports. Graphs on numbers made based on Ecological Atlas, Institute of Geography.


The need to have a more system-based approach to the problem has become acute. The Saiga are being protected in Kazakhstan, facts are being pronounced, but forecasting, risk and problem analyses are not there. Kazakhstan does not have any document governing the management of the system of conserving biodiversity which stakeholders could use as guidance.

That’s why we would like to make the following suggestions to resolve this problem in the future:

1.  Approve the Biodiversity Concept: the concept contains the main biodiversity conservation areas, especially concerning the Saiga.

2.  Kazakhstan has not developed a plan of managing any species, as is practiced across the world. The Saiga management plan should include:

         ●     Monitoring habitat of the Saiga antelope;

         ●     Monitoring nutritive base of the Saiga;

         ●     Researching the climate aspect (climate change) and the habitat system of the Saiga;

         ●     Bacteriological research;

         ●     Virological research (including insect-related infections);

         ●     Research of impact of venomous insects’ bites (mites etc.);

3.  Protection of the Saiga is important so new Protected Areas in Saiga habitats should be created

4.  Genetic research is also necessary

5.  Researching factors of man-made impacts on the Saiga populations.

What do you think? Do you have any feedback for us related to our suggestions?

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