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The UB Post, 8 апрель 2004 No. 14 (411)

Study finds saiga on verge of extinction

According to a recent study by WWF of Mongolia (WWFM), the population of saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica mongolica) in the country has been reduced to 750. The census providing the information for this report was taken in December 2003. Only four years ago, an official census counted 5,200 of the animals.

WWFM specialist Yu. Onon stated that the decline in saiga is a direct result of poaching. An illegal market for saiga antlers exists, supported by a network of poachers and smugglers. "We must destroy this network immediately," he said.

The organization has tracked down and spoken with several poachers in the course of their investigation. The procedure for hunting saiga has been reported as follows: the animals are pursued by automobile and hit, then the antlers are cut off with an axe while the animal is still alive. The hunters do not utilize any other parts of the animal. Rather than processing the saiga for meat, the poachers leave the injured animals to bleed to death.

A poacher who refused to give his name told the WWFM researchers that generally the hunters would prefer not to harvest the antlers while the antelope are alive. The market conditions, he said, make it impossible to do otherwise. "The Chinese buyers pay much more for antlers of this sort - they contain more blood than those taken from dead antelope," he said. The poacher went on to explain that processed saiga antlers are used as medicine by some people in China.

An official source put the market price of a single antler at Tg 20,000. Poachers refuted this report, claiming that the going rate is Tg 30,000.

The WWFM census covered an area of over 2,860 km where saiga have traditionally roamed. The researchers were able to confirm that the area had maintained no major damages to the environment, nor had there been any significant deviation in natural conditions or temperature. The research sufficiently established that the reduction in population was directly related to human activity. The extent of poaching activity had, until then, been grossly underestimated.

Onon implored locals to get involved in the protection effort. "The participation of local citizens is very important in the battle against illegal hunting," he said, after explicitly laying out the potential extinction of the saiga antelope. He also pushed for stricter legal measures against poaching. "By law, an individual arrested for hunting rare animals incurs a fine of Tg 20,000-50,000 while organizations found guilty are subject to fines of up to Tg 250,000," he stated. "Although this law should be upheld very seriously a criminal can, in reality, quite easily evade criminal responsibility."

WWFM representatives beseeched the authorities to tackle the matter in earnest. "We believe that the government must adopt a concrete stance before the saiga antelope is driven to extinction."

By B. Bulgamaa

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