Mongolia: Deadly virus causes another mass die-off of endangered Saiga antelopes

Around 2,500 Saiga antelopes have died in Mongolia since December 2016, struck by a deadly virus. This is the first time an infectious disease outbreak has led to the death of Mongolian Saiga antelopes.

The Saiga antelope is a critically endangered species. Recognisable by its unique bulbous nose, its global population has been dramatically reduced in recent years, due to disease, just like during the massive die-off that happened in Kazakhstan in 2015. The animals are also threatened by poaching and habitat loss. They are hunted down for their horns, which are used in traditional medicine. It is estimated that Saiga antelopes’ numbers have gone down by 90% in the last decade.

Mongolia is home to a unique subspecies of Saiga antelope known as Saiga tatarica mongolica. Only 10,000 antelopes were thought to roam in the Great Lakes Depression of Western Mongolia, so a loss of 2,500 animals in the space of two months – 25 per cent of the population – deeply worries conservationists. Although the outbreak shows signs of decreasing, it is not yet over and may continue well into the spring.

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