Saiga are a nomadic, sexually dimorphic species that were formerly widespread across the Central Asian steppe. There are two subspecies; one in Kazakhstan and Russia and another in Mongolia. Throughout their range, saiga populations have dramatically declined from overharvesting, poaching, severe winter weather, and competition with livestock. Varied but consistent counts suggest that less than 5,000 Mongolian saiga remain in the wild.
Mongolian saiga have great recovery potential, with high fecundity and regular rates of twinning. The development and implementation of adequate protection measures could ensure that Mongolian saiga can fully recover in the wild. IWS is working in partnership with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to develop and implement efficacious methods for monitoring saiga population trends. Monitoring entails a suite of research activities that focus on repeatable population surveys with details about age and sex ratio, movement patterns, habitat use, calf production and survival, and the role of human, environmental, and ecological factors that impact survival and mortality. Monitoring is necessary to assist anti-poaching units and education programs aimed at conserving wild Mongolian saiga.
We are currently conducting a study to understand calf survival of Mongolian saiga. Specific objectives are:
1) identifying calving areas;
2) comparing birth timing, twinning rates, and morphological characteristics with historical data; and
3) determining survival rates of neonates.
Calves were first captured, collared, and monitored in 2008 and 2009. We elected to monitor calf survival with radio-collars to obtain detailed information on survival and, if possible, identify sources of mortality. We are evaluating calf survival because it is often more variable and has a larger impact on population dynamics than adult survival. Obtaining survival estimates can lead to a better understanding of which age cohort drives population dynamics and better guide efforts to reduce mortality for that age class; this information can effectively guide strategies for conserving Mongolian saiga.
Information on conservation in Mongolia on the WCS website:
http://www.bentham.org/open/toconsbj/openaccess2.htm (click on 2008)
http://www.saiga-conservation.com/saiga_news.html (issues 8, 6, & 4)