Advancing saiga conservation: The Third Meeting of the Signatories to the CMS Memorandum on saiga antelope

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Sunny Tashkent welcomed participants to the third meeting of the signatories to the CMS Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga Antelopes (MOS3), which took place from 26th to 29th October 2015. Photo by: Alexander Esipov

Advancing saiga conservation: The Third Meeting of the Signatories to the CMS Memorandum on saiga antelope

Update by Natalia Yakusheva, CMS Secretariat, published in Saiga News Issue 20 on page 5.

More than seventy participants from governments, international organizations, NGOs, and academia gathered together to agree on a concrete set of measures to restore saiga populations in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. A Technical Workshop for saiga experts and the Annual Meeting of the Saiga Conservation Alliance bookended the MOS3 and provided important platforms for in-depth discussions on disease outbreaks, infrastructure, illegal trade, and local conservation actions.

The meeting was initially scheduled to take place in 2015, as the previous Medium Term International Work Programme, which defines a set of conservation measures for the saiga antelope, was coming to an end. After the spring catastrophic die-off, when more than 150,000 saigas died in Kazakhstan, the urgency of conducting a meeting became even more evident. The saiga die-off attracted unprecedented attention to the conservation of this species from media all over the world and to some extent helped to facilitate fundraising efforts.

Furthermore, it created a momentum to spread the message about the significance of saiga conservation beyond the usual circles of government officials and engaged conservationists. Despite minor logistical and procedural bumps, the meeting served its purpose and participants agreed on the way forward for saiga conservation.

The CMS Memorandum on the saiga antelope entered into force in 2006 and was signed by all five Range States (Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), as well as nine co-operating organizations working on saiga conservation. The joint efforts of governments and other organisations and individuals committed to saiga conservation brought a significant recovery in population numbers from an all-time low of 50,000 animals in the early 2000s. However, currently saigas face new challenges - along with the longstanding threats of poaching and illegal trade - such as disease outbreaks and rapid infrastructural expansion. The latter is especially detrimental for the transboundary Ustyurt population between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which is on the brink of extinction, not least due to a border fence and a railroad dissecting the migration.

As is the case for any other international agreement, the CMS Memorandum on the saiga antelope provides an umbrella, aiming to set priorities and coordinate actions. However, the actual actions and results depend on the commitment, engagement and mobilization of resources of each and every person interested in the conservation of this iconic steppe species. The MOS3 demonstrated once again that the "saiga community" is ready to face new challenges, which will hopefully bring fruitful results.

Please click here for more information and meeting documents.