Behavioural Research of the Saiga Antelope, Saiga Tatarica, in it's main reproductive season in a semi-natural condition - Aili Kang PhD thesis
As one of the famous and important animal species in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Saiga antelope once roamed on the semi-arid steppes of Central Asia in herds of more than one million animals. However, the slaughter of the Saiga for its horn, meat and skins has caused this species to decrease 95% in one decade. In China, it disappeared from field survey records 30 years ago.
In 1987, a reintroduction project was initiated in Wuwei Endangered Wildlife Breeding Center of Gansu, in order to recover the population of this species in China. From 1993, the saigas were released into an enclosure of 27ha area. The various vegetation types and topography was similar to the habitat in the wild. It provided the animals with a semi-natural condition. Scientific study of animals in such a condition may be a kind of transition from captive to wild. It can play important role in the conservation of target species.
This study found that vocal signal may play an important role in communication between mother and their calves. In the first 4 weeks, more than 95% suckling bouts were initiated after maternal females made sounds to the calves. In hiding period, when they accessed hiding sites, the mothers didn't approach to their calves directly, but bleated near the sites until the calves stood up and walked toward each other. It may be interesting in the further study to find out if the environment with different predator pressure will influence the vocal communication of the maternal saigas to keep contact with their offspring, which may be helpful to understand the role of vocal signal in maternal care.
Altogether, this is the first study for saigas' reproductive behavior patterns in details. It will provide important information for further comparison of saigas' behavior among captive and natural environment. At the same time, through the study, a systematic observation frame will be established for the further monitoring on saigas' behavior in reintroduction.