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WWF information , 18 February 2003

WWF information on Saiga

Background:

The saiga (Saiga tatarica) is a nomadic species that lives in Central Asia. One of the two sub-species, Saiga tatarica tatarica lives in Kalmykia, Russian Federation and in Kazakhstan, migrating seasonally to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The other sub-species, Saiga tatarica mongolica, lives in Mongolia. At the start of the 20th century, there were thought to be several million Saiga, though this dropped dramatically during the 1920s and 1930s. From the 1930s, attempts were made to restore the Saiga population, then in the 1950s, Saiga hunting, which had been banned in the USSR since 1919, was allowed once more. Between 1980 and 1994, numbers of Saiga fluctuated between 670,000 and 1,251,000 animals. From 1998, there was an abrupt decrease in Saiga numbers - with the total population numbering only 175,000 in 2000 and about 100,000 in 2001. At the current time there is a complete ban on commercial Saiga hunting and approved national programmes for rebuilding the populations in Kazakhstan and Kalmykia. Key threats to the Saiga remain habitat degradation, poaching and disturbance. The Saiga is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.

WWF support for Saiga conservation:

In 1995, when it became clear that numbers of Saiga were starting to decline, WWF conducted research into population levels, and alerted range states and Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species in Fauna and Flora (CITES). In 1995, TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and IUCN, produced a report on trade in Saiga, and in the same year, WWF supported the successful listing of Saiga on Appendix II of the CITES. This listing should have provided the protection to stop over exploitation for the international trade across borders and for the governments of these range states to address the threats to the Saiga. However, numbers of Saiga have continued to decline.

WWF, through its Large Herbivore Initiative for Europe, has tried to address one of the key threats to the Saiga, providing direct support to anti-poaching patrols in Kalmykia, Russia. In Mongolia, WWF is working to ensure preservation and recovery of the Saiga. WWF is also running a project to conserve and restore Saiga populations in Kazakhstan.

In May 2002, WWF supported a workshop in Elista, Russia on Saiga conservation. The workshop, which brought together 90 specialists, concluded that the Saiga was still under tremendous pressure from poaching, and from the failure to enforce anti-poaching legislation in Russia. The workshop proposed a number of tangible measures for CITES parties to take to help reduce the pressure on the Saiga.

Response to the New Scientist article:

WWF was engaged in protection of rhinos from its earliest days. Between 1970 and 1987, more than 100 tonnes of rhino horn were bought and sold in international markets. This is equivalent to at least 40,000 dead rhinos. In 1987 CITES agreed that the ban on international trade in rhino horn and rhino products should be extended to domestic trade. However, in a number of countries, the import, export and domestic sale of rhino horn remained a lucrative industry in particular for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

Historically, Saiga horns have been used as a treatment for fever by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and some had suggested using it to replace medicinal use of rhino horn. In 1990, WWF Hong Kong gave a grant of HKD 30,000 to the Chinese University of Hong Kong to study the antipyretic properties of horns of rhino, Saiga antelope, domestic buffalo and ox. The study found that hot water extracts of the horn of all tested animals could, at various dosages, reduce fever in rats. The results were published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology 30(2):179 [year 1990].

WWF never actively promoted Saiga hunts. However, as part of its campaign in the early 1990s to stop the use of rhino horn, WWF did encourage the use of rhino horn substitutes, in particular the use of water buffalo horn. Saiga was occasionally mentioned as a possible substitute for rhino horn - in particular because in the late 1980s, it was believed that Saiga populations in the USSR were stable and well managed. However, by 1992, WWF had already noted in a publication 'Help WWF Stop the Rhino Horn Trade' that "Today, Saiga horn (...) is the most popular alternative. As a result, the Saiga antelope is again threatened. So although (...) Saiga horn is an effective alternative, WWF believes that it is currently not a viable alternative."

By 1994, WWF was calling for the listing of the Saiga on CITES appendices. WWF opposes, and will continue to oppose the TCM that uses endangered species and will continue to look for and promote sustainable alternatives.

Dr. Esmond Bradley-Martin is referred to and cited as being a WWF ecologist. While Dr. Bradley-Martin did do extensive consultancy work for WWF, he has never been a full time employee of the organization. The views he expresses in the New Scientist article are therefore his own, and do not represent the views of WWF.

For further information:
Kyla Evans, WWF International, tel: +41 22 364 9550

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