The Antelope Killing Fields - Issue 56: Perspective

The Antelope Killing Fields - Issue 56: Perspective

Dead animals were scattered across the steppe in front of us. Up to the horizon. Thousands of them. That was the moment we understood that we were observing a mass mortality of catastrophic dimensions.

We were in Kazakhstan that day in May of 2015 to study the saiga antelope, a remarkable herd animal that grazes in semideserts, steppe, and grasslands, and has evolved to run long distances at high speeds. Our team was a part of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, which conducts annual observations of the endangered animal’s calving season. We had noticed a few animal carcasses, but the situation didn’t seem exceptional. The area’s saiga, after all, were known to have experienced mass die-offs in the past.

But every day, more and more animals died. And then, suddenly, in just two days, about 80 percent of the gathered herd fell dead, leaving everybody both puzzled and worried. Within another two days, the entire herd had perished.

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We soon learned that other saiga herds elsewhere in the region were suffering the same fate. Some 200,000 animals would die in about one month’s time, representing about 88 percent of the Betpak-Dala saiga population…
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