What Is Killing the Saiga Antelope?

Mother saiga and calf, from the Cherniye Zemly (Black Earth) Nature Reserve, Kalmykia, Russia.      Photo: Igor Shpilenok

When nearly one-half of Kazakhstan’s saiga antelope population died suddenly in May 2015, speculation followed that this unique animal was on the brink of extinction. The immediate cause of death was found to be the bacterial disease hemorrhagic septicemia. But something had to happen to ignite the disease outbreak in the first place, and precious few clues exist as to what this might have been.

The saiga have faced similar mass die-offs in the past and have displayed a remarkable capacity to recover. There is great concern for this critically endangered species, but there is also room for hope. A better understanding of the complex epidemiology of hemorrhagic septicemia in saiga and livestock will reinforce this hope.

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