The Significance of Artesian Wells for Saigas within the Stepnoi Sanctuary, Astrakhan Region< Back
Article by Andrey Gilev and Karina Karenina, Vertebrate Zoology Department, Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Article published in Saiga News Issue 20 on page 19.
The role of water sources of different types, including artesian well overflows, in the life history of the saiga is quite well known. They are particularly important in the species' most vulnerable period of calving, and for juveniles when the vegetation begins to dry out in the strong summer sunlight. We studied the role of artesian wells for saigas in detail, by conducting observations on May 11th-30th 2015, in the Stepnoi Sanctuary, Astrakhan region. We set up a temporary observation shelter close to a small lake formed from the overflow of an artesian well. It was a small, camouflaged colour, tent with observation holes allowing an all-round view. Observations were made every day, usually from 03:00am to 11.30am and 17:00pm to 19:30pm. Two observers entered the shelter and left only when there were no saigas visible. Monitoring was done using binoculars, photographs and videos. Animals were photographed side-on, full-length and full-face and later the pictures were used for identification of individual animals based on specific colour patterns, scars, bald heads and other natural markers. Horn pigmentation and the shape and location of cross rings at the base of the horns served as important identification features for males. If obvious individual features (scars, colour patterns) were missing, then females were identified using differences in the dark-coloured fur on their foreheads.
A tournament between young male saigas in the open land near the artesian lake.
Over the 20 days of observation, the number of saigas coming to drink varied on a daily basis. Daytime air temperatures fluctuated between +17 and +35 degrees celsius, on average +25 degrees celsius (according to data from www.gismeteo.ru in Linman village). Roughly 51 - 1,569 saigas per day (average 466 +/- 119) were recorded at the artesian lake. The largest number of animals was recorded on May 23rd, 25th and 26th (about 1,569, 923 and 1,094 animals respectively). Since observations were calculated conservatively and only made at certain times of the day, the actual number of saigas coming to the lake could be higher. Individual identification showed that many animals came to the artesian lake repeatedly (recorded maximum: 18 times over 12 days). This shows how important artesian lakes are for the existence of the saiga population within the Stepnoi sanctuary.
A young saiga drinking artesian water.