Monday, June 20, 2016

Saigas Comeback

US Person posted last year about the big-nosed antelope of the Asian steppes, the saiga (Saiga tatarica). {02.06.15}  The critically endangered species suffered a mass die-off that baffled scientists.  About 200,000 died in central Kazakhstan from a bacterial infection.  A recent survey conducted last month of three saiga populations shows their number is increasing.  The survey counted 108,300 animals, down from a pre-disease count of 242,000.

credit: Klaus Nigge
Researchers continue to investigate the mass deaths, but have isolated a bacterium from tissue samples, Pasteurella multocida that caused hemorrhagic septicemia.  Prior to the mass die-off, this type of disease was never 100% fatal, making it unique in the annals of biology.  In May 2015 females of the Betpak Dala population gathered to give birth.  Separate groups spread across the landscape became ill and shortly thereafter died leaving mostly males, who separate from the herds during calving, alive.  Pasteurella normally lives in the animal's respiratory tract, so why the organism was so deadly this time remains unexplained.  Testing so far has not revealed any man-made contamination, such as rocket fuel, as a causative agent.  Saigas are already under pressure from loss of steppe habitat to agriculture and poaching of males for their horns. Saiga meat is also considered delicious and the skin is used for making suede.  Conservation efforts need to be increased in order to allow the populations to recover from the natural disaster.