A species facing extinction
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
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.
6 to 10 years
Gestation period is 140-150 days, with litter size 1-2.
Grasses, steppe lichens, herbs and shrubs.
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.
Where are the Saiga antelope?
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
- 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?
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.
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.
What is WWF doing?
- 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.