Late last May, when geo-ecologist Steffen Zuther and his colleagues arrived in central Kazakhstan to monitor the calving of one herd of Saigas, endangered antelopes, only to find out these dead animals on the ground.
Back then, it remained a mystery as to why in the world are those 60,000 antelopes died in just a span of four days?
But now, researchers at least have clues as to why more than half of Kazakhstan’s Saiga population, which once counted 257,000 antelope, died off within the space of a month. Antelope die offs aren’t uncommon. So geo-ecologist Steffen Zuther and company weren’t “really alarmed” when local veterinarians in Kazakhstan briefed the researchers about the dying antelope.
The extent of this die-off, and the speed it had, by spreading throughout the whole calving herd and killing all the animals, this has not been observed for any other species. It’s really unheard of,” said Zuther.
The culprit? A rogue bacteria that went unchecked as it colonized the colons of the animals.
Researchers have found that an abundance of available vegetation created problems inside of the animals’ guts, which allowed the bacteria to spawn out of control.
According to Live Science reports, as scientists puzzle over the Saiga die-offs, they pointed out the fact that this isn’t the worst the trunk-nosed antelope have had to endure. As many as 400,000 of the Saiga died in 1988, there’s a chance they’re learning to adapt to whatever is really killing them.
But for now, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists Saiga antelopes as “critically endangered.” That’s a stage away from extinct in the wild and two steps away from extinct.
The population has shown an observed decline of over 80 percent over the last 10 years and the decline is continuing. Severely skewed sex ratios are leading to reproductive collapse,” explains the IUCN in its classification of the Saiga.