The death of sixty thousand antelopes in only four days has struck the world with horror and doubt. It all started in late May.
This horrible scene was witnessed when gynaecologist Steffen Zuther and his colleagues reached central Kazakhstan to examine the calving of one herd of a critically endangered species namely the saiga – steppe-dwelling antelope.
Veterinarians revealed the dead bodies of animals on the ground.
Dr Zuther, the international coordinator of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative pointed out “But since there happened to be die-offs of limited extent during the last years, at first we were not really alarmed”.
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While the entire herd was found dead within four days, veterinarians and conservationists learnt about similar condition in similar herds across Kazakhstan. Outrageously, the mass dying was over by early June. Later on, the death of more than half of the nation’s herd, counted at 257,000 in 2014 was confirmed. It could not be denied that bacteria too spread like wildfire in the antelopes’ demise.
However, Dr Zuther adds that exactly how these normally harmless bacteria could take such a peak is mysterious. He also highlights, “The extent of this die-off, and the speed it had, by spreading throughout the whole calving herd and killing all the animals, this has not been observed for any other species…It’s really unheard of.”
The saigas in general are of great importance in the ecosystem of the arid grassland steppe. It was noted that the winter season prevents fallen plant material from decomposing. Gonzo-nosed antelopes also help largely to break down the organic matter, hence recycling nutrients in the ecosystem and stopping wildfires drove by too much throwing of leaves on the ground.
These animals provide delicious meals too for the hunters of the antelopes. Dr Zuther underlines that “Where you find saiga, we recognize also that the other species are much more abundant”.