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A future for the "Serengeti of the North"

Protecting the steppe and saiga antelope in Kazakhstan

Baby Saiga
New born saiga antelope in the Kazakh steppe.

Temperate grasslands represent the least protected ecosystem in the world by far. Much of the remaining natural steppe in Eurasia is in Kazakhstan.

 

It is estimated that roughly one million saiga were roaming Kazakhstan's grasslands in the 1970s. Today the country still remains home to most of the total saiga population - although this is merely a fraction of what it once was. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the impoverishment of the rural population coupled with the opening of the borders to China led to an enormous increase in poaching. The saigas were killed for their meat but also for their horns, which are valued in traditional Chinese medicine. Within ten years of the end of the Soviet Union, the numbers of saiga had been depleted by more than 95 percent. In 2002 the saiga antelope was on the brink of extinction and was put on the red list of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

 

Together with our local partner, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), we are committed to supporting the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative. This joint international project is dedicated to protecting the unique grasslands of Kazakhstan and its predominant species. The purpose of the initiative is to set up a network of protected grassland habitats in central Kazakhstan. The result is that vast grass steppe and semi-desert regions - the characteristic landscape of Kazakhstan - are now being protected and restored. One of the main focuses is on the saiga antelopes of the Betpak-Dala population, which play a crucial role in the ecosystem of the steppe and semi-desert.

WHAT EXACTLY ARE WE DOING?

  • Preparing the designation of new, and the expansion of existing, conservation areas
  • Reinforcing the newly created conservation areas
  • Training rangers in the project region
  • Running a telemetry programme to investigate the migration behaviour of the saiga antelope and to improve the efforts against poaching
  • Monitoring the mating and calving of the saigas.
  • Assisting in the aerial saiga surveys
  • Investigating the mass extinction of the saiga, and their diseases in general
  • Carrying out a feasibility study on the reintroduction of the Przewalski horse in Kazakhstan
  • Conducting research into the ecological role of the wolf in the steppe and semi-desert
  • Providing environmental education in the surrounding villages and schools
  • Carrying out the first tourist excursions through the Altyn-Dala region