Saiga Antelope

Saiga Antelope

Saiga

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Family
Subfamily
Tribe
Genus
SPECIES
Saiga tatarica
Population size
164-165 thou
Life Span
10-12 yrs
WEIGHT
26-69 kg
HEIGHT
61-81 cm
LENGTH
100-140 cm

The Saiga antelope is a critically endangered antelope that once inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe. This unusual antelope has a distinctive pair of closely spaced, bloated nostrils directed downward. The coat of these animals changes according to the season. In summer, it appears yellow to red, fading toward the flanks. In winter, the coat develops a pale, grayish-brown color, with a hint of brown on the belly and the neck. The ventral parts are generally white. Only males possess horns that are thick and slightly translucent. The horns are wax-colored and show 12 to 20 pronounced rings.

Distribution

Today, Saigas are only found in one region in Russia (in the Republic of Kalmykia and Astrakhan Oblast) and three areas in Kazakhstan (the Ural, Ustiurt, and Betpak-Dala populations). A portion of the Ustiurt population migrates south to Uzbekistan and occasionally Turkmenistan in winter. These rare antelopes live in semideserts, steppes, grasslands, and possibly open woodlands where they may shelter during strong winds.

Saiga Antelope habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Saigas are very gregarious animals that form very large herds. They are active during the day and spend most of their time grazing in steppes and grasslands eating various plants, including some that are poisonous to other animals. Saigas are known for their extensive migrations across the steppes that allow them to escape natural calamities. These antelopes can cover long distances and swim across rivers, but they avoid steep or rugged areas.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Saiga antelopes are herbivores (graminivores). They feed on a wide range of grasses, steppe lichens, and other plants.

Mating Habits

REPRODUCTION SEASON
starts in November
PREGNANCY DURATION
5 months
BABY CARRYING
2 calves
INDEPENDENT AGE
4 months
FEMALE NAME
doe
MALE NAME
stag
BABY NAME
calf

The mating season starts in November when stags (males) fight for the acceptance of females. The winner leads a herd of five to 50 females. After a 5 months gestation period females come together in mass to give birth. Two-thirds of births are twins and the remaining third of births are single calves. The young are usually weaned at about 4 months age. Females become reproductively mature at 7-8 months and males start to breed when they are 2 years old.

Population

Population threats

The population of Saiga antelope fell drastically following the collapse of the USSR due to uncontrolled hunting and demand for horns in Chinese medicine. Saigas have been a target of hunting since prehistoric ages when hunting was an essential means to acquire food. The horns, meat, and skin of these animals have commercial value and are exported from Kazakhstan. Saiga horn, known as Cornu Antelopis, is one of the main ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine that is used as an extract or powder additive to the elixirs, ointments, and drinks. Their value is equal to the rhinoceros horn, whose trade was banned in 1993. Although hunting and trade are considered illegal, the horn products still can be found sold publicly and openly in a great variety of venues and businesses. Another serious threat to Saiga antelopes is habitat loss. Agricultural advancement and human settlements have been shrinking habitat areas of these animals since the 20th century. Occupants limited Saiga's passage to water resources and the winter and summer habitats. Saigas are also dependent on weather and affected by climate fluctuations to a great extent due to their migratory nature. Harsh winters with strong winds or high snow coverage disable feeding on the grass under the thick snow. Population size usually dramatically decreases after severe cold months. Moreover, high temperatures in the steppe region lead to springtime floods, in which saiga calves can drown.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Saiga antelope in January 2018 was estimated at 164,600-165,600 individuals or 123,450-124,200 mature individuals; these include 154,600 individuals in Kazakhstan, 5,000-6,000 individuals in Russia, and around 5,000 individuals in Mongolia. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • During summer migrations, a Saiga's nose helps filter out dust kicked up by the herd and cools the animal's blood. In the winter, it heats up the frigid air before it is taken to the lungs.
  • Saigas dig small depressions in the soil in which they like to sleep at night.
  • Like many other herbivores, antelopes rely on keen senses to avoid predators. Their eyes are placed on the sides of their heads, giving them a broad radius of vision with minimal binocular vision. Their horizontally elongated pupils also help in this respect.
  • Acute senses of smell and hearing give antelope the ability to perceive danger at night out in the open (when predators are often on the prowl). These same senses play an important role in contact between individuals of the same species; markings on their heads, ears, legs, and rumps are used in such communication.
  • The antelope's ability to run swiftly has led to their association with the wind. Humans have also used the term "Antelope" to refer to a tradition usually found in the sport of track and field.

References

1. Saiga Antelope on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saiga_antelope
2. Saiga Antelope on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/19832/50194357

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