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Press release: “Conservation triumph”, Saiga antelope reclassified from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™

Home // Press releases for the media // Press release: “Conservation triumph”, Saiga antelope reclassified from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™

This positive status change reflects the species’ remarkable recovery in Kazakhstan due to ongoing conservation efforts, but action is still needed to ensure populations continue to improve, especially in Uzbekistan where only 500 individuals remain

Today [11th December 2023], the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ status of saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) has improved from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened. This positive change in global Red List status – a rarity in conservation – reflects the remarkable recovery of saiga populations in Kazakhstan, which have risen from a perilous low of just 48,000 in 2005 to now over 1.9 million.

This triumph is the result of ongoing conservation efforts by the Saiga Conservation Alliance (SCA) and other national and international partners, who together have implemented anti-poaching measures, improved available habitat and monitor existing populations. This work has been made possible by continual support from wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and others, which has supported the SCA’s vital conservation work for almost 20 years.

But despite this good news, conservation action is still urgently needed as the species remains under threat across Central Asia from habitat loss, poaching and climate change, especially in Uzbekistan where it’s thought only 500 individuals now remain.

Female-saiga-antelope-with-her-young-Eugeny-Polonsky
Female saiga antelope with her young. Credit Eugeny Polonsky.

Nida Al-Fulaij, Conservation Research Manager at People’s Trust for Endangered Species says: “The reclassification of saiga antelope is undoubtably a milestone worth celebrating, but saiga are still in serious trouble in other parts of Central Asia, so we cannot be complacent. We will continue to fund the SCA’s crucial work in the hope that we can prevent saiga from becoming extinct in Uzbekistan. The situation for saiga antelope across Central Asia is complex, but with ongoing support we believe there is hope.”

Saiga antelope have roamed the earth since the last Ice Age, outliving iconic extinct species like woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. Yet despite once migrating through eastern Europe, Asia and Alaska, they are now only found in fragmented populations in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia and Uzbekistan. There were an estimated 1 million saigas in Central Asia in the early 1990s, but by the early 21st century their numbers had plummeted, with only 6% of the population remaining.

The reasons for the decline are complex. Since the break-up of the former USSR uncontrolled illegal poaching for meat and horns, exported for the traditional Chinese medicine trade, led to the catastrophic fall in numbers across Central Asia. Increasing development of oil and gas extraction infrastructure and the consequential habitat loss, all combined with climate change, has since spiraled the species into further decline.

To combat these threats and bolster remaining populations, PTES has funded the SCA’s vital conservation work since 2004. This has included creating a network of steppe wildlife clubs across all saiga range states to build public engagement, working with local communities to ensure positive coexistence, and setting up emergency appeal in response to the mass die-off of saiga in 2015.

PTES is currently working with Dr. Elena Bykova and Olya Esipova who are studying the recently re-discovered isolated population on Vozrozhdeniye Island in Uzbekistan. Using ground survey methods and camera traps, the mother and daughter conservation team hopes to find out how many saigas remain on the island, how they use the terrain, and what effective conservation measures can be set up to protect them from illegal poaching and increasing infrastructure.

Dr Elena Bykova, Program Director for SCA Uzbekistan and Head of the Laboratory of the Endangered Species at the Academy of Science, Uzbekistan adds: “Our work would not be possible without the long-term support from PTES, to whom we remain incredibly grateful. Building on this strong foundation our goal is to now designate Vozrozhdeniye Island as a protected area, which would cease poaching and hopefully see saiga numbers start to improve. We are encouraged by the huge success in neighbouring Kazakhstan, and hope that one day we will be celebrating our successes in Uzbekistan.”

To find out more about the saiga antelope work PTES is funding, visit www.ptes.org.

–  ENDS –

For high res images, interview requests or further information, please contact Adela Cragg:

T: 07532 685 614

E: adelacraggPR@outlook.com

Notes to Editors

Available for interview

  • Nida Al-Fulaij, Conservation Research Manager, People’s Trust for Endangered Species
  • Dr Elena Bykova, Program Director for SCA Uzbekistan, Saiga Conservation Alliance and Head of the Laboratory of the Endangered Species at the Academy of Science, Uzbekistan

About People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES)

  • PTES, a UK conservation charity created in 1977, is ensuring a future for endangered species throughout the world. We protect some of our most threatened wildlife species and habitats, and provide practical conservation support through research, grant-aid, educational programmes, wildlife surveys, publications and public events.
  • PTES’ current priority species and habitats include hazel dormice, hedgehogs, water voles, noble chafers, stag beetles, traditional orchards, native woodlands, wood pasture and parkland and hedgerows.
  • PTES has Species Champions for two of its priority species: for hedgehogs The Rt Hon Chris Grayling, MP for Epsom & Ewell and for water voles The Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central and Chair of the Brexit Select Committee.
  • Visit www.ptes.org and follow PTES on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube & LinkedIn.

About the Saiga Conservation Alliance

  • The Saiga Conservation Alliance is a network of researchers and conservationists who have worked together since 2006 to study and protect the critically endangered saiga antelope.
  • International networking, collaboration and capacity building is a key strand of our strategy within the saiga range states (Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia) and consumer countries (China, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia).
  • We are committed to restoring the saiga antelope to its position as the flagship species of the Central Asian and pre-Caspian steppes, reflecting the species’ cultural and economic value to local people and its fundamental role in the steppe ecosystem.

Header image credit Victor Tyakht | Shutterstock

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