Words by Smiley Team
Saiga antelope numbers have made a pretty astonishing comeback, after previously being threatened with extinction thanks to conservation efforts by the RSPB, alongside the Government of Kazakhstan and partners.
It was near extination, but there are now 1.32 million found roaming the steppe grasslands of Kazakhstan once again.
Having migrated across the ancient Eurasian steppe grasslands in their millions, decades of uncontrolled poaching, habitat loss and disease caused saiga antelope numbers to dwindle to less than 40,000 individuals by 2005.
In response to the species’ plight, the RSPB co-founded the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative alongside the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), the Kazakh Government, and other international partners to restore the saiga population. As a result, the saiga has made an astonishing comeback – from less than 40,000 individuals in 2005 to more than 1.32 million recorded in 2022.
Successfully using satellite tracking to understand saiga movements and increasing anti-poaching activities, the project is also working to establish protected areas covering over 4 million hectares to benefit the saiga antelope and other wildlife that lives alongside the species.
Just one of the areas that the project has focused its conservation efforts is the Ural region of western Kazakhstan where 800,000 saiga antelope congregate every spring to give birth. Bokey Orda-Ashiozek, a site found within this region, includes one of the most significant calving sites for the species.
In response to the importance of the area for the saiga antelope the Government of Kazakhstan has announced recently that Bokey Orda-Ashiozek has been declared as a 657,450 hectare Protected Area to help safeguard the future of the species and wider steppe nature.
Mark Day, Head of Kazakh Steppe Conservation at the RSPB, adds: “This official declaration paves the way for an exciting year ahead. Using our conservation science to help aid species across the globe has only been made possible thanks to long-term partners like ACBK who, in collaboration with the Kazakh Government’s Forestry & Wildlife Committee, are at the forefront of saiga antelope study and conservation in Kazakhstan.
"We look forward to continuing our work alongside ACBK and establishing a biodiversity monitoring programme for the new Protected Area, bringing vital new equipment to the site, training a new team of rangers, and developing the site management plan to help safeguard the area and saiga antelope for generations to come.”
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