Saiga Antelope

The saiga antelope is a major player in one of the most spectacular animal migrations. It faces an uncertain future due to hunting and loss of habitat.
Female Saiga antelope. Kalmykia, Russia. rel=
Female Saiga antelope. Kalmykia, Russia.
© Navinder J. Singh

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Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Saiga, Mongolian Saiga, Saiga Antelope

  • Scientific Name

    Saiga tatarica, Saiga tatarica mongolica

  • Status

    Critically Endangered

    (IUCN A2acd)

  • Population

    Estimated 50,000

A species facing extinction

A distinctive bulbous nose makes the saiga an unlikely pin-up for the conservation movement. Habitat loss and illegal hunting have dramatically cut population numbers.

Physical description

The large humped nose hangs over the mouth of the saiga. The nose is flexible and inflatable so helps it to breathe clean air during dusty summers and warm air during cold winters.

Its coat is sparse and cinnamon coloured during the summers, turning to a very thick white coat during the winters.

Saiga antelope has long, thin legs but is similar in size to a sheep.

Weight: 30 - 50kg (males) and 21 - 40kg (females)
Shoulder height: 60 - 80cm, males are usually taller than females.
Length: 108 - 150cm

Social structure

Saiga form herds of 30-40 animals. However, during the migration season tens of thousands of saiga will travel together, forming part of one of the most spectacular migrations in the world.

Lifespan

6 to 10 years

Breeding

Gestation period is 140-150 days, with litter size 1-2.

Diet

Grasses, steppe lichens, herbs and shrubs.

Population

The fall in saiga antelope populations has been dramatic. In the early 1990s numbers were over a million, but are now estimated to be around 50,000. The Mongolian sub-species (Saiga tatarica mongolica) is particularly at risk with an estimated population of just 750.
Saiga antelope is a priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.
 / ©: Yury Grachev
A baby saiga
© Yury Grachev

Where are the Saiga antelope?

Red = Saiga tatarica tatarica, Green = Saiga tatarica mongolica


View Saiga antelope distribution in a larger map. Source: E. J. Milner-Gulland et al.: Dramatic decline in saiga antelope populations. Oryx, Vol 35, No 4, October 2001
  • Biogeographic realm
    Palearctic
  • Range States
    Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
  • Geographic Location
    SE Europe and Central Asia
  • Ecological Region
    Temperate grasslands, savannahs, shrublands; Montane grasslands, shrublands; Deserts and xeric shrublands

What are the threats to the saiga?

Hunting

The break up of the former USSR led to uncontrolled hunting. Increased rural poverty means the saiga is hunted for its meat. Demand for the horn used in traditional Chinese medicine skewed the sex ratio so dramatically leading to a catastrophic drop in birth rates.

Habitat loss

The saiga has also had to face increased competition for grazing grounds from other species as natural habitat is claimed for agricultural use.

A hard time recovering


Severe winters followed by summer droughts in recent years have also made it difficult for the population to recover.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / John E Newby
Saiga populations have declined due to poaching for the illegal trade in their horns. Traditional Chinese medecine market in Sichuan Province, China.
© WWF-Canon / John E Newby

What is WWF doing?

Since 1994 WWF has been involved in the conservation and management of the saiga antelope. This has taken the form of a variety of actions, including:

  • Support to and promotion of the development of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) memorandum on saiga conservation.
  • Raising public awareness within range states of the need for and importance of saiga conservation.
  • Preparation of a socio-economic assessment in order to develop alternative incomes for local communities.
  • Participation in the organisation of the international workshop on saiga conservation in Kalmykia in 2002.
  • Jointly with national governments and other partners, provision of support to anti-poaching activities for the Betpakdala population of saiga in Kazakhstan.


Since WWF started its saiga project in 2003,  the population of the species in Betpakdala has grown ... / ©: Yuri Arylov
Since WWF started its saiga project in 2003, the population of the species in Betpakdala has grown from 2000 to 16800.
© Yuri Arylov
saiga_logo-b.jpg / ©: WWF Mongolia
saiga_logo-b.jpg
© WWF Mongolia
WWF-Mongolia is a member of the Saiga Conservation Alliance.

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Did you know?

    • After stags fight it out during mating season, one stag will have the honour of leading a herd of up to 50 females.

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