ASTANA – An aerial census and monitoring of the saiga population in Betpakdala, Ustyurt and Ural regions is scheduled for April 7 and 10 as part of a programme to preserve and manage fauna resources, according to the press service for the Kazakh Ministry of Environment and Water Recourses.
The aerial counts are being conducted by the Okhotzooprom Association of the Ministry’s Committee of Forestry and Hunting. Members of scientific organisations, regional forestry and hunting inspectors, as well as representatives of natural parks and environmental organisations will participate in the campaign.
Two AN-2 planes will conduct the aerial census. One will monitor the saiga population in the Betpakdala and Ustyurt regions, and the other plane will monitor Uralsk.
In total, 230 flight hours have been allocated to monitor saiga antelopes in 2014. According to the schedule, the Uralsk population is first on the list, followed by the Betpakdala and Usturt territories.
The total number of saiga species in Kazakhstan will be announced after the monitoring is completed and the data is analysed.
According to statistics, Kazakhstan had a saiga population of 187,000 in 2013. That number was up from only 21,000 antelopes in 2003.
Decades of illegal hunting have made the saiga an endangered species. These animals now inhabit territory in Russia and Kazakhstan. Despite the fact that saiga hunting is punishable in Kazakhstan by up to five years in prison, poachers continue to pursue these creatures whose horns fetch $75 a pair on the black market in Kazakhstan and far more smuggled into China.
Another challenge that has faced the saiga is the lung disease pasteurellosis. In 2010, an outbreak of this disease killed approximately 12,000 antelopes.
To help save this once million-strong population, Kazakhstan signed a memorandum of understanding on saiga conservation with Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia in 2006.