Conservation boost for 'ugly duckling' antelope

Ulaanbaatar/Bonn/Geneva, 13 September 2010 - Under the leadership of the Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS), a broad alliance of government representatives from Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, UN bodies, inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and local communities have come together to discuss and agree on a new conservation strategy for the Saiga antelope.

During an international conference held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the Central Asian States and the Russian Federation agreed this week to include the Mongolian Saiga antelope in an international Saiga agreement concluded under the auspices of CMS. With Mongolia signing the agreement, all Saiga antelopes will benefit from this international cooperation.

Saiga antelopes roam the vast planes of Central Asia and the Russian Federation. They can undertake migratory journeys between summer and winter ranges of over 1,000 kilometers. Although described as the ugly duckling of the world's antelopes, the Saiga is a vital part of the natural and cultural heritage of the plains of Eurasia.

Saiga antelopes still numbered around one million in the early 1990s, but declined to around 60-70,000 in 2006. Since then, and in response to conservation efforts, their populations have stabilised at this low level. Today, the majority of populations are starting to increase, but one transboundary population continues to decline. Current populations are reported to number about 85,000 animals in Kazakhstan (almost 12,000 died in the disease outbreak in May 2010), 8,000 in Mongolia, at least 10,000 animals in the Russian Federation and several thousand in Uzbekistan in winter. No Saiga mass migration has been observed in Turkmenistan in the last 10 years, where the species used to migrate to in harsh winters.

Despite legal protection, the Saiga are hunted for their meat and horns, which are used in oriental traditional medicine. Other threats include disease, pasture degradation through overgrazing by livestock and other disturbances from oil and gas extraction work and possibly climate change.

New measures being introduced are expected to harmonize monitoring and surveys to regularly track all populations. Aerial and ground surveys will determine changes in the winter and summer territories of the Saiga, with emphasis on calving, rutting and migration areas. Due to their long migration between winter and summer pastures, it can make it extremely difficult to find them.

The experts at the meeting carried with them figures released in a report commissioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and compiled by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, which raised the alarm over the levels of illicit trade in Saiga horns even before this year's mass die-offs. The report, entitled "Saiga Antelope Trade: Global trade with a focus on Southeast Asia", brings together information on the Saiga horn trade gleaned from interviews with Saiga experts and government officials, together with market surveys in Malaysia and Singapore where Saiga horns are readily available.

"The key to success for the conservation of these unique looking antelopes of the Eurasian steppes has been the engagement of local people," said CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. "This week's meeting paves the way for implementing the international action plan for the conservation of this remarkable animal across its entire range."

Governments are seeking to address the fundamental motivation for poaching Saiga, namely poverty and unemployment. Involving local communities is therefore critical to the conservation measures implemented under the CMS Saiga agreement. Incentives to combat poaching are being developed through alternative livelihoods in deprived steppe communities. Many grassroot initiatives have sprung up, such as in Uzbekistan, where local women make handicrafts, the proceeds from the sale of which are directly fed into Saiga conservation projects. In Russia local people participate in Saiga monitoring while going about their daily livestock herding.

In Kazakhstan individual Saiga have been equipped with radio and satellite collars allowing rangers to obtain their position in real time and protect them better from poaching. These tracking devices also allow researchers to understand the migratory routes of the species as well as the driving forces for its movements. This in turn can help determine which areas should be protected.

Spurred by their success, the countries where Saiga antelope survive pledged to redouble their efforts to restore the populations of these animals to their former numbers, so that they can regain their place in the spiritual, cultural and economic life of the Eurasian plains.

Both CMS and CITES Parties will continue to actively involve local communities to restore Saiga populations to healthy levels and ensure tightly controlled sustainable use of the species for regional and East Asian consumers.

Notes to Editors:

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), also known as the Bonn Convention, works for the conservation of a wide array of endangered migratory animals worldwide through the negotiation and implementation of agreements and species action plans. At present, 114 countries are Parties to the Convention. In 2006, CMS concluded the Memorandum of Understanding concerning conservation, restoration and sustainable use of the Saiga Antelope.


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants is sustainable, legal and traceable. It has a membership of 175 countries.

Saiga antelope

In 2002 the sub-species Saiga tatarica tatarica, which includes several transboundary populations was listed on CMS Appendix II. In 2006 a Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica tatarica) came into force. It is aimed at restoring Saiga populations and has been signed by all countries, where Saiga antelopes live in the wild today. Since 2008 the entire species has been listed on CMS Appendix II. In line with the abovementioned expansion of the MoU to include the Mongolian Saiga, the agreement is now called Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga antelope (Saiga spp.). In 1995 the Saiga was included in Appendix II of CITES primarily to ensure that international trade in Saiga horn does not threaten their survival.

For more information please contact:

Veronika Lenarz, UNEP/CMS Secretariat, tel: +49 (0)228 815 2409, e-mail:

Juan Carlos Vasquez, CITES Secretariat, tel. (+4122) 917 8156, e-mail:


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