Conservation of the Uzbek Ustyurt saiga population: Assessing the drivers of illegal behaviour using the Theory of Planned Behaviour

Laura Kor

The plight of the saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) as one of the most threatened mammals in the world is a pertinent example of the consequences of illegal natural resource use. Despite international protection and conservation efforts, saigas continue to be hunted for both their meat and horns, making an improved understanding of the drivers of
human decision-making a necessity to enable the design of more effective targeted saiga conservation efforts. 

This study assesses the prevalence and motivations of saiga meat consumption in the Uzbek Ustyurt range of the saiga antelope. The Theory of Planned Behaviour, a psychological framework for the study of human decision-making, is combined with an emerging tool for estimating the prevalence of sensitive behaviours – the Unmatched Count Technique (UCT). A mixed-methods approach employing both quantitative household questionnaires and qualitative key informant interviews is used to better understand the social context of saiga conservation in the area.

Findings reveal that discussion surrounding the topic is extremely sensitive, with the application of the UCT having limited success. It is shown that while attitudes towards saigas are positive, traditional social norms continue to drive a high level of demand for its meat. However, as supply has decreased, so too has the consumption of saiga meat
within local villages, with associated changes to poaching activity, means of procurement and the economic status of the people who purchase and consume it. Results are examined and used to make suggestions for further investigation and
conservation action. This study joins a growing body of conservation literature in stressing the fundamental importance of addressing the drivers of human behaviour in order to reduce unsustainable resource exploitation and achieve long-term conservation goals.