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Foreign experts present findings on mass saiga pestilence in Kazakhstan

Saiga bodies scattered across the steppe. Photo courtesy of mgov.kz Saiga bodies scattered across the steppe. Photo courtesy of mgov.kz

Foreign experts have made preliminary conclusions on the mass saiga pestilence in the Kazakh steppes that occurred in May, Tengrinews reports citing Khabar TV Channel.

The death toll of the saiga exceeded 134,000 - over a half of the entire saiga population of Kazakhstan and one third of the global population.  In 2014, there were about 256,000 saigas living in Kazakhstan. Considering that the largest proportion of the entire population lives in Kazakhstan, the latest pestilence was a severe blow to the rare species, which is already at risk of extinction.

Only females and lambs were affected. Their corpses had swollen bellies, and there was blood in their noses and mouths. However, the infection spared the stags, who separate from the females for the calving period.

Some experts believed the deaths were caused by exhaustion and lack of fodder, since 2014 was dry, so there was no sufficient amount of grass in the region.

Pasteurellosis was named as the cause of the previous case of mass death of saiga in the region recorded in May 2012. This acute infectious zoonotic disease was determined as the cause of death of 926 saigas. that year. Therefore, some were led to conclude that this year's case was a much more severe form of the same problem. However, the group of foreign specialists led by Steffen Zuther now say otherwise.

Together with his colleagues, Zuther went on an expedition along the migration routes of the species from south to north crossing five Oblasts of Kazakhstan, collecting samples of water, soil and grass. Some of those were sent to laboratories in the UK and Germany, others were studied in domestic laboratories.

He said that according to preliminary results, the cause of death of saiga is hemorrhagic septicemia. It is an infection that involves bacteria producing many different toxins. The researchers suspect that the pathogens were spread by ticks that populate the steppes in great numbers in late April-early May.

"We are studying the case and analyzing the data. We will have most of the test results ready in the end of August or beginning of September. After that experts are going to develop a clear plan to prevent mass deaths of saiga in the coming years," said the head of the Wildlife and Hunting Department of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan Bakytbek Duisekeyev.

By Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina


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