|courtesy: Kazakhstan Ministry of Agriculture|
[photo left] to attract females with flatulent noises.
It will take weeks to isolate a disease agent from tissue, meanwhile speculation about the cause abounds. Chemical pollution is a often mentioned as a possibility, but previous die offs were thought to be related to lush growth of plant species that make the antelope dangerously bloated [photo right]. In 1988 there was a mass die-off of 434,000 animals. Certain grasses of the Brassicacea family are poisonous to ruminants if eaten in large quantities, causing diarrahea, bloating and foaming fermentation. Brassicacea species proliferate in wet conditions. The steppes are wet this year due to heavy rains. But the speed of infection and 100% mortality is inconsistent with that hypothesis according to an expert on the scene. The animals were infected with Pasteurella and Clostridium, both deadly, but common in healthy animals that have tolerance for these organisms. The United Nations agency overseeing saiga conservation measures says the die-off is over, but long term survival of the species is in doubt if science cannot determine what killed the saigas.