A comparison of age estimation methods for the saiga antelope Saiga tatarica

M. Lundervold
R. Langvatn
E.J. Milner-Gulland

Until recently, the saiga antelope Saiga tatarica was an abundant and commercially important hunted species of the semi-arid rangelands of Central Asia (Bekenov, Grachev & Milner-Gulland 1998, Sokolov & Zhirnov 1998). However, it was heavily poached following the break-up of the Soviet Union, with hunters particular-ly targeting males for their horns, which are used in tra-ditional Chinese medicine. The saiga was reassigned. 2003: A comparison of age estimation methods for the saiga antelope Saiga tatarica. -Wildl. Biol. 9: 219-227. Age estimation is particularly crucial for the conservation of the saiga antelope Saiga tatarica, but modern laboratory methods for aging have not previously been applied to this species. There is an urgent need for evaluation of the tech-niques that could be used for age estimation in order that long-term ecologi-cal data sets can be correctly interpreted and conservation advice given. We eval-uated the repeatability, practical feasibility and comparability of three techniques for age estimation of saiga antelopes; the tooth sectioning technique (TS), the tooth eruption and wear technique (TEW), and a visual aging technique rou-tinely used in field studies. We found that TS and TEW gave repeatable results, and agreed well. The visual method underestimated the age of males compared to laboratory methods. It assigned animals consistently to the age class of at least one year old, but less consistently to the age class less than one year old. Although studies of known-age animals are needed to evaluate precision and accuracy of these methods, we suggest that either TS or TEW would be suit-able for aging saiga antelopes, with the choice being determined by practicalities such as the availability of the necessary expertise and equipment.

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