Last year the saiga antelope of Kazakhstan experienced a mysterious mass dying. We know think we know what caused this already endangered species to lose almost 70% of its global population and 88% of antelope in Betpak-dala desert.
The scenes were terrifying of herd of antelope, lying dead, spotting the landscape. It is estimated that over 200,000 antelope died during this mysterious die-off. Scientists had no idea what was causing these deaths until now.
The Saiga Conservation Alliance has pinpointed what they believe to be the cause, Pasteurella multocida. Pasteurella multocida is normally a benign bacteria living in the respiratory tract of these antelope, somehow turned deadly.
This conclusion comes after multiple laboratories analyzed samples from the caucasuses. It is thought that this normally mundane bacteria somehow became the assassin by causing haemorrhagic septicaemia.
The symptoms include high fever, shortness of breath, salivation and finally death. All of these were seen in the field. The reasons behind this sudden change are not clear although unusual weather conditions were stressing the herds, that does not explain the 100% mortality rate.
With the investigation of these antelope deaths still ongoing, many biologists are worried about the upcoming calving season. With such a sudden and large drop in population, a successful birthing seasoning is critical this year for the devastated saiga antelope.
Before the mass dying, the antelope population stood around 300,000 although there were thought to be around a million just a couple of decades ago. The World Wildlife Federation played a hand in their initial decline by suggesting their horns could be used as a replacement to rhino horns for medicinal purposes.
In an effort to save the rhinos, the WWF inadvertently endangered the saiga antelope.