ProjectsEuropeKazakhstanConservation Programme for the Saiga Antelope - Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative
25 saiga antelopes successfully collared in the Betpak-Dala
25 October 2010, 07:47 | Steffen Zuther

On 23rd October, the last of 25 saigas has been caught and collared by the team of the ADCI. During 26 days of intensive fieldwork, these animals have been caught in different regions of the project area of the ADCI, the Betpak-Dala. The widely spread collars will hopefully allow obtaining a complete picture of the distribution of saigas throughout the former migration range.

The last collars have been deployed in the most southern parts of the population in Central Kazakhstan. This is already the area, where the animals come together every year for the rut in early December. It is characterised by a very wide and flat landscape with very sparse vegetation. This kind of territory is, of course, very convenient for chasing them, allowing us to deploy 4 collars on 22nd October, three of which even within one hour. The last saiga was then much harder to catch, taking several hours of driving through the steppe and 4 catching attempts.

Two times during the last days, the ADCI team had contact with poachers, which are also active in this area. First, we assisted the state rangers from Okhotzooprom in chasing them. Two days later, we had a four wheel drive car directly in front of us, hurrying away from us, as soon as they spotted us. The information about this was also given to Okhotzooprom, and now it seems as if they were able to detain these poachers, who are professionally organised and hunting to get the saiga horn from the males.

One sad event has to be reported: Actually, we have caught and collared 26, and not 25 saigas. One of the saigas collared in the region of Torgai had bad luck and has been killed by wolves shortly after collaring. She has been collared in the late afternoon, has moved quite a distance south from that point afterwards, what we can see from the transmitted coordinates, but unfortunately stopped for the night – still moving around alone without a herd - near a group of wolves. These used their chance and killed the saiga. Three days later, we have been at the place again, and only bones were left as well as the collar, which we used again for another animal.

However, the 25 saigas, which are now wearing a collar around their neck, are all moving normally and seem to be in good condition. For many of them even the critical period of 2 weeks after collaring, during which they might still die due to heavy stress during the catching, have passed, showing that the ADCI team has done a good job in guaranteeing that stress for the animals is limited to a minimum.

The data which we obtain now every day will be used to develop maps for the state institutions of the current distribution in order to let them coordinate their anti-poaching work. We will also monitor carefully the condition of every saiga. Later on, maps showing the complete migration route can be produced and the migration itself investigated in detail, including an examination of preferred habitats.

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