Saiga and her fawn. Credit: Rich Reading

Credit: Rich Reading

Saiga antelope are large migratory herbivores living in the dry steppe grasslands and semi-arid deserts of Central Asia. They were once abundant, roaming alongside mammoths and saber-toothed tigers over vast landscapes spanning from the British Isles to Alaska. Surviving harsh and changing environmental conditions for millions of years, saiga populations are in significant decline due to increased poaching for meat, poaching of males for their horns (used in traditional Asian medicine), and natural threats such as disease and environmental change. They are also of cultural and historical significance for the people of Central Asia as a symbol of the traditional nomadic lifestyle.

Today, roughly 124,000 saiga remain in the wild, dropping from over 1,000,000 since the 1990s. As of 2002, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified saiga as Critically Endangered, and in 2005 the total population plummeted to about 30,000 individuals. In 2019 at the 18th meeting of the Conference of Parties to CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Flora and Fauna, CoP18), saiga remain listed on Appendix II and a proposal to establish a zero export quota for wild specimens traded for commercial purposes was adopted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided financial and technical assistance for saiga conservation since 2000, and continues to support partners working for the survival of this unique animal throughout its range.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided financial and technical assistance for saiga conservation since 2000, and continues to support partners working for the survival of this unique animal throughout its range. 

Quick Facts

Species Range: Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russian Federation, and Uzbekistan

Population Estimate: 123,450 - 124,200 (populations experience extreme fluctuations, field partners estimate that there were 334,400 in Kazakhstan alone in 2019)

IUCN Classification: Critically Endangered

CITES Listing: Appendix II (zero quota for wild specimens traded for commercial purposes)

Key Threats: Poaching and illegal trade, habitat fragmentation, disease, droughts, temperature extremes