The ecology and management of the saiga antelope in Kazakhstan
The ecology and management of the Saiga antelope Saiga tatarica tatarica, a nomadic herding species of the desert, semi-desert and steppe ecosystems of Central Asia, are reviewed. The range area and population size of the Saiga in Kazakhstan have changed substantially since they were first described, declining rapidly through the nineteenth century to a low point in the 1920s, followed by recovery until the 1950s and subsequent stabilization. A detailed description is given of the Saiga’s habitat and the differences between the winter and summer pastures. The species feeds mainly on grasses, although herbs and shrubs are seasonally important. The migratory patterns of the species divide into directional seasonal migrations and less structured local movements. Group sizes are largest in the calving season and during the autumn migration. Harems are formed in early December. Fertility rates are high, with females giving birth in their first year of life, and routinely twinning thereafter. However, mortality rates are also high in years of drought and harsh winters. The major factors limiting populations include climate, parasites and diseases, predators, and anthropogenic factors. The major human influences are commercial hunting and poaching. Agriculture and habitat alteration are less important currently, although they were probably responsible for the division of the Kazakhstan population into three separate populations. The species was well managed in the Soviet period, with strong institutional structures. However, a new political era requires a re-evaluation of the Saiga’s needs, in the face of a growing threat from poaching.