The Kazakh Agriculture Ministry has sounded an alarm over the fate of the saiga, a critically endangered antelope that roams the steppes of Central Asia. The animals continue to fall prey to poachers engaged in the lucrative trade in their horns, which fetch large sums over the border in China where they’re prized for use in traditional medicine, the Kazakhstan Today news agency reports.
The deaths registered by inspectors are undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg. Kazakhstan faces a formidable challenge in its saiga conservation efforts, with hard-pressed inspectors trying to police the vast and remote territories where the antelopes roam as poachers continue to hunt them down.
The World Wildlife Fund identifies loss of habitat and hunting as key threats to the existence of the saiga, a distinctive creature with a long, humped nose that allows it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breath warm air during the freezing winters.
To combat the slaughter of the antelopes for their horns, the Forestry and Hunting Committee is proposing banning adverts for the purchase of saiga horns, which are placed by traders in the media, its chairman has said. The advertising is blatant and “has to be rooted out,” the Kazinform news agency quoted Yerlan Nysanbayev as saying at a meeting on saiga conservation.
Nysanbayev said that Kazakhstan’s recent success in slightly boosting saiga numbers after a sharp decline is undermined by a rise in poaching, which he put down to Chinese demand: “We are starting to become alarmed by the fact that with the increase in the saiga population the number of cases of poaching is increasing in parallel. A recent trip to a seminar in China showed that the People’s Republic of China is the main consumer [of saiga horns]; this is an old ingredient in ancient Chinese medicine.”
Kazakhstan’s saiga population’s plummeted from a million in 2000 to 85,500 today, the Forestry and Hunting Committee says – but there’s a glimmer of hope too: Numbers have risen slightly on last year figure, when the country’s saiga population numbered 81,000.