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Suspects arrested in Kazakhstan for poaching saigas and killing a state ranger

Kazakh state ranger Yerlan Nurgaliev died following a violent incident with Saiga poachers in the steppe. Now three suspects have been arrested by the police.

On Monday, 21 January, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan reported that the police had arrested three men suspected to have illegally hunted saiga antelope and resisted the arrest through state wildlife rangers, lethally injuring one of the rangers.

On 13 January 2019, armed poachers had attacked two wildlife rangers from "Okhotzooprom", a Kazakh state agency under the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan. While on patrol in the Nurinsky district a group of Okhotzooprom-rangers had found fresh carcasses of saiga and car tracks close by. The rangers had followed the car tracks, found the vehicles and had indicated for them to stop. The suspected poachers had tried to flee so the rangers fired warning shots in order to stop their cars. Eventually one of the cars stopped and the suspected poachers attacked and seriously injured the state rangers. They had left the unconscious rangers behind and drove off with their GPS and car key. Many hours later the injured rangers were found by their colleagues. For Yerlan Nurgaliyev, who had been working for Okhotzooprom for many years, their help came too late and he died of his severe injuries on 15 January.

A few days after his death police have identified and arrested the suspected poachers. Albert Salemgareyev, national coordinator of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, says: "The wildlife rangers from Okhotzooprom are a key partner for us in conserving the saiga antelope. They do an extremely important, but also dangerous job out there in the steppe. This is a very tragic incident. But it shows very clearly that the illegal hunting for and trade of saiga horn has become a form of organized crime in Kazakhstan." According to the Committee of Administrative Police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the total amount of the confiscated saiga horn during 2011 - 2018 was not less than 13,545 horns. This tragedy might renew the discussion whether rangers should be granted the right to carry weapons in order to increase their safety.

"This is extremely sad news ," adds Steffen Zuther, project leader from FZS, "Last May during the saiga calving season we worked with these two rangers. They were very dedicated to their jobs and it pains me deeply that they were punished for that. Our thoughts are with Yerlan Nurgaliyev’s family and all the Okhotzooprom rangers. We will do everything we can to make their work easier and safer and prevent such incidents in the future.”

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