Inhabiting the vast plains of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, it is estimated that there are currently around 56,300 to 61,300 individuals, down from approximately 1,250,000 in the mid-1970s. [1]

According to CITES, the decline may be attributable to the combined effects of changes to vegetation, competition with domestic livestock, increased predator numbers, disruption to migratory routes, and poaching and illegal trade.[2]

Exports of Saiga horn are currently prohibited through national legislation, in order to allow populations to recover, and several countries have established captive-breeding centres, with the aim of re-introducing captive-bred animals into the wild.

Nevertheless, as noted at a Workshop on the Conservation and Sustainable use of the Saiga Antelope in China in September 2010, “Continued poaching for meat and illegal trade in horns seriously exacerbate conservation efforts, particularly at the present time, when all populations of the species are depressed.” [3] Indeed, poaching and illegal trade “remains the basic threat to the species and is the main cause of the dramatic declines observed since the mid-1990s.” [4]

A TRAFFIC Europe Report in September 2010 reported that “East Asia and South-east Asia are known to be the two most important importer and consumer regions of Saiga horns, mainly owing to their need for the horn for use in traditional medicines.”  China is the largest importer of Saiga horns, importing a total of 31,323kg since 1995. 3 To try to address growing concerns about the threat to Saiga populations, the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicines (CATCM) is reviewing the range of different types of medicines containing Saiga horn, and researching the pharmaceutical efficacy of alternatives. [5]

Despite imports from Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation being officially ‘suspended’ since 2001, both countries have continued to export Saiga specimens; there are also “indications that government officials in Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation are possibly involved in the illegal hunting of Saiga Antelopes and trade in their products and that they may co-operate with poachers.”  

Furthermore, knowledge of the conservation status of the Saiga Antelope is low, and the majority of consumers and TCM dealers in Malaysia and Singapore are unaware of the critical conservation status of the species, with the majority of dealers believing Saigas were farm-bred.   

Given the complex conservation challenges, recommendations to protect Saiga populations are varied and include:

• Strengthen law enforcement,
• Strengthen research and expertise on captive breeding
• Undertake targeted public awareness campaigns on the conservation status of Saiga, to educate TCM consumers and dealers in China, Malaysia and Singapore
• Explore possible funding for conservation through establishing links between TCM stakeholders and in-situ conservation projects in Saiga range States.

Also, the Saiga is listed under the Convention on Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) under Appendix II only, and should be uplisted to Appendix I in order to provide increased protection, and to allow dwindling populations to stabilize and, ultimately, flourish.

2. Workshop on the Conservation and Sustainable use of the Saiga Antelope (Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China - September 2010),
3. A TRAFFIC Europe Report, September 2010: Saiga Antelope and Trade: Global Trends with a Focus on South-East Asia,