Bonn, 25 June 2009 - On the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Bonn Convention, the Russian Federation has enhanced its support for the conservation of the Saiga antelope by signing the relevant agreement established in the framework of the Convention.
The Saiga antelope is one of most rapidly declining land mammal species worldwide. While one million of the ungulates still traveled through the Eurasian steppe as recently as the early 90s, their populations have dwindled to less than 100,000 animals today.
Illegal hunting and ecosystem changes are the main threats. There is a high demand for Saiga horn in traditional Chinese medicine, which is not only used in the Far East, but has also established markets in Europe. In addition, antelope meat serves as a protein source in particular for the poorer sections of the society across the Saiga's range.
At present, there is neither effective monitoring nor funding for projects. In addition, incentives in rural areas to sustainably manage Saiga populations are still missing. The signing of the Saiga Agreement by Russia brings new prospects of changing this.
CMS Executive Secretary Robert Hepworth said: "Russia's signature of the Saiga Agreement tonight means that all four of the main Saiga range states have now joined this CMS initiative and our partners to conserve these remarkable antelopes. Saigas have survived turbulent times in the past. The commitment of Russia, alongside Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is essential if they are to enjoy a stable future."
On the occasion of the signing ceremony in Bonn's city hall, Alexey Bazhanov, Vice Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation said: "Together with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, we will cooperate to ensure that the threats to the Saiga antelope during their long migrations are reduced. Awareness campaigns targeting the rural population will help to fight poaching and efforts will be made to minimise the impact of obstacles to migration."
Combating poaching is a key objective of the Saiga agreement. Monitoring Saiga numbers across national borders will record the development of populations for the first time in 15 years.
The Bonn Convention foresees the establishment of a network of protected habitats holding viable populations of animals living in the Eurasian steppe such as the snow leopard and the Mongolian gazelles as well as the Saiga. These include migration corridors aimed at preventing the fragmentation of populations and ensure sustainable migration patterns across international borders.
Kalmykia, a region on the northwest coast of the Caspian Sea in the southern part of European Russia, provides important habitat for the Saiga antelope. With the signature of the Russian Federation, Kalmykia as well as the regions around Astarkhan and Volgograd will be part of international efforts to protect the Saiga antelope for the first time.
Notes to Editors:
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species and their habitats throughout their range. It is an intergovernmental treaty, concluded under the aegis of UNEP, concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale. UNEP/CMS is addressing all threats to the survival of migratory animals and to the migration process itself such as hunting, habitat degradation, climate change and obstacles to migration.
The Convention was adopted in Bonn, Germany, on 23 June 1979 and entered into force on 1 November 1983. Today, 111 countries are Parties to the Convention.
The aim of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga Antelope is to reduce current exploitation levels and restore the population status of these nomads of the Central Asian steppes. It entered into force in September 2006.