Nature & Environment
Mystery surrounds death of saiga antelopes
By T.K. Randall
May 28, 2015 · 18 comments
It's not clear what is killing so many of the antelopes. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Seilov
Over half of the world's remaining saiga antelope population has dropped dead within the last few weeks.
The alarm had been raised earlier this month when tens of thousands of the antelopes, which were already considered to be an endangered species, were found dead in fields across Kazakhstan.
As the death toll rose conservationists struggled to explain what was happening to the animals.
"Itís shaping up to be a complete catastrophe," conservationist EJ Milner-Gulland said at the time. "Iím afraid the animals are still dying and we are not actually getting a final number yet."
Now only a week later the death toll has risen from around 19,000 to more than 120,000 - a figure that represents approximately half of the entire remaining population of saiga antelopes.
Even more worrying is the fact that almost 90% of those affected are female, meaning that even if the species survives what is happening it will be very difficult for them to repopulate afterwards.
Scientists investigating the phenomenon believe that some sort of lung disease may be the most likely explanation while another possibility is rocket fuel poisoning from the Baikonur spaceport.
The mass die-off is a complete disaster for conservationists who had previously succeeded in restoring the antelopes' numbers from just 21,000 back in 2003 to a healthier 265,000 last year.
Unless the cause of the deaths can be found and stopped soon however it might only be a matter of time before the species disappears forever.
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