Kazakhstan: Good News for Long-Nosed Antelopes
Some rare positive news about the endangered antelope known as the saiga: Numbers are up in Kazakhstan and have risen over the symbolic 100,000 mark, Tengrinews reports.According to the latest figures, Kazakhstan’s saiga population has jumped by about a quarter since last year’s estimate. Kazakhstan has the world’s largest number of the endangered antelopes, but today’s figures are a far cry from Kazakhstan’s million-strong population of the 1970s.The saiga is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Due to conservation efforts (and despite setbacks including the death of 12,000 saigas through disease last year), saiga numbers in Kazakhstan have quintupled over eight years. But there is a long way to go. Paradoxically, the increase in numbers could have an unexpected adverse effect by making herds of these creatures – which have a distinctive long, humped nose that allows them to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters – more visible to hunters.Hunting the saiga is illegal in Kazakhstan, punishable by a five-year prison term, but, for risk-takers, there is money to be made.“The saiga horn is used in traditional medicine in China, so the demand is from there,” Zhannat Tansykbayev, director of Okhotzooprom, the state company in charge of protecting Kazakhstan’s fauna, said.A pair of saiga horns fetches around $75 on Kazakhstan’s black market, and prices rocket once the horns have been smuggled into China. “Demand is high, so the temptation is high,” Tansykbayev added.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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