Darwin Project 18-015 Addressing the Illegal trade in the Critically Endangered Ustyurt Saiga USAID SCAPES Ustyurt Landscape Conservation Initiative Project Soci

E.J. Milner-Gulland
Adam Philipson

This report presents the findings of a socio-economic survey undertaken between May and August 2011 on the Ustyurt plateau in both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Within the wider framework of Darwin project 18-015 (Addressing the illegal trade in the critically endangered Ustyurt Saiga), and the USAID SCAPES Ustyurt Landscape Conservation Initiative, this research aimed to identify trade routes and the distribution of the benefits of trade (consumption of saiga meat and income from the sale of both meat and horn) alongside the multiple market mechanisms that support and maintain the use of these products, as well as increasing understanding of livelihood activities of local communities, including saiga poaching and trade. The report suggests that the continued exploitation of saigas in the region is due to a number of inter-related mechanisms including:

  • the ‘open access’ nature of the species in question,
  • the high prices paid for horn,
  • the role that meat plays as a cheaper substitute for beef and mutton, and 
  • a lack of viable livelihood alternatives in the communities in which poachers live. 

The research focussed on the bottom of the commodity chain; the hunters and village-based traders, and the communities within which they live on the Ustyurt plateau. Useful data were obtained concerning the series of relations through which saiga products pass, despite the major challenge that the topic is highly sensitive, concerning illegal activities, and therefore there is a general reluctance to share information with outsiders. Appropriate care has thus been taken to focus less on a quantitative evaluation and more on drawing a broad-brush picture of the market mechanisms and those factors predisposing local people to continue to hunt for, eat and trade in saiga products. The trade in saiga horn, in particular, is international, with the trade routes all leading to East/South east Asia. This means that the identity and incentives of those involved becomes less clear the further one moves away from the steppes and as the degrees of separation between original hunter and subsequent traders increase.