Saiga, or Saiga (Latin Saiga) is a genus of mammalian animals that belongs to the group of cloven-hoofed animals, a family of Polaroid, a subfamily of these antelopes. The female saiga is a saiga, the male saiga has the name saiga or margac.
The Russian name of this kind arose due to the languages belonging to the Turkic group, in which this concept corresponds to the concept “chagat” or “saiɣak”. The Latin definition, which later became international, appeared, most likely, thanks to the works of Austrian historian and diplomat Sigismund von Gerberstein. For the first time, the name “saiga” was documented in his “Notes on Muscovy”, which date back to 1549. IN AND. Dahl during the compilation of his “Explanatory dictionary of the Russian language” noted that for male individuals the concept of “saiga” or “mugger” is assigned, and females are called “saiga” in the people.
Saiga refers to unique animals that have preserved their appearance unchanged since the times when the herds of mammoths wandered on the surface of the Earth. Therefore, the appearance of this artiodactyl is distinguished by a peculiar individuality, due to which it can not be confused with any other mammal.
A saiga, or steppe antelope, is an animal with a body length of 110 to 146 cm (including the tail) and a height at the withers from 60 to 79 cm. The length of the tail reaches 11 cm. The weight of the saiga varies according to gender and is within the 23- 40 kg, although individual males can reach a body weight of 50-60 kg. The feet of the steppe antelopes are rather short and thin, the trunk is not too massive, elongated.
A characteristic feature of all members of the genus is the soft, movable nose of the saiga, somewhat resembling a short trunk. This organ hangs quite low, covering the upper and lower lip, and also has large rounded nostrils, separated by a very thin septum. Due to the elongated vestibule of the nose, optimal air filtration from dust in the summer and autumn periods is achieved, and in winter warming of the inhaled cold air is provided.
In addition, with the help of the nose-trunk during the breeding season of the saiga, males make special sounds designed to intimidate the rival and attract the attention of females. In some cases, the voice superiority is sufficient, and male individuals do not have to put their weapons into action – horns, which are a characteristic sign of sexual dimorphism.
The shape of the antler saiga resembles a curved lyre and grows on the head almost vertically. On average, the length of the saiga horns reaches 25-30 cm, and two-thirds, starting from the head, are covered with horizontal annular ridges. Color of horns is pale-red. In adulthood, the animal’s horns become translucent with a yellowish-white hue. It is noteworthy that after the male reaches the age of one and a half, the growth of horns ceases. Female saigas are hornless.
The ears of the animal are short and wide. The small eyes of the saigas are planted far apart, the eyelids are almost bare, the pupil is oblong, and the iris is yellowish-brown.
The short and rather rare summer saiga fur has a yellowish-red color, darker on the sides and back. The length of the fur reaches 2 cm. On the abdomen, the color of the coat is less intense. The lower part of the trunk, neck, and the inner part of the legs are white. With the onset of cold weather, saigas are covered with dense, thick wool with a grayish-whitish shade, up to 7 cm or more in length. Thanks to these features, a herd of saigas, lying on a snow nap, looks almost invisible to natural enemies. Change of fur cover, moulting saiga, occurs in the spring and autumn periods.
Saigas are cloven-hoofed animals with a well-developed sense of smell, so they feel the slightest smells of fresh greens and past rain. Excellent hearing makes it possible to catch any suspicious sounds at a considerable distance, but with good eyesight, artiodactyl animals do not differ.
How much does a saiga live?
The lifespan of a saigas under natural conditions depends on gender. Saigas males live from 4 to 5 years, the life expectancy of females is from 8 to 10-12 years.
Types of saigas.
The genus includes only 1 species – saiga (lat. Saiga tatarica), in which 2 subspecies are distinguished:
Saiga tatarica tatarica is a subspecies whose number in 2008 numbered no more than 50 thousand individuals. Saiga antelopes live in the steppes and deserts of Russia (North-Western Caspian region), Kazakhstan (Ustyurt, Betpak-Dala, Volga-Ural sands).
Saiga tatarica mongolica is a subspecies that lives in the north-west of Mongolia. Its number in 2004 did not exceed 750 individuals. Mongolian subspecies differs from Saiga tatarica tatarica by smaller body sizes, length of horns and habitat.
Where does the saiga live?
In the period after the late Valdai glaciation, the saigas lived in a vast area, ranging from western Europe and the UK, to Alaska and northwest Canada. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the animals occupied a smaller territory, from the foothills of the Carpathians to Mongolia and western China. In the north the border of the habitat area passed through the Barabinsk lowland in the southern part of Western Siberia. As a result of human settlement, the number of saigas has significantly decreased. Currently, saigas live only in the steppes and semi-deserts of Kazakhstan (in the Volga-Ural Sands, Ustyurt and Betpak-Dala), Russia (North-West Caspian), and in western Mongolia (Shargin Gobi and Somon Mankhan). In Russia, the saiga dwells in the steppes of the Astrakhan region, in Kalmykia and the Altai Republic.
In the spring and summer of the herd of saigas, the number of individuals in which ranges from 40 to 1,000 heads, live in steppe or semi-desert climatic zones with a predominance of flat areas and the absence of elevations or ravines. In winter, during snowstorms, animals prefer to hide from piercing winds in hilly areas. Attachment of saigas to flat places with stony or clay soil is associated with its running amble. When moving in this way, the animal can not jump even a small ditch across the width.
Saigas lead a nomadic lifestyle, showing activity during the daytime. During the danger, the speed of the saiga can reach 80 km / h, and when crossing with an amble for long distances the herd resembles a train rushing along the steppe at a speed of about 60 km / h. The direction of movement chosen by the leader can change dramatically, without affecting the pace of movement.
Winter saigas are carried out in places where the height of the snow cover does not exceed 15-20 cm. In the beginning of summer, the animals migrate to more northern areas.
What does the saiga eat?
The list of feeds included in the diet of saigas consists of hundreds of different steppe grasses, including even those that are poisonous to livestock. In spring flowers and grasses contain a lot of moisture, so animals satisfy their need for water by eating field flowers (irises and tulips), licorice and kermek, steppe lichen, fescue and wheat grass, ephedra and wormwood. The daily requirement for green mass is from 3 to 6 kg per individual. With the onset of a hot period, saiga plants are added to plants such as prutnyak and solyanka, and steppe antelopes begin migrating in search of food and water. Saigas are constantly on the move and even feed on the go, biting off the plants they pass. On agricultural fields, animals go reluctantly,
Reproduction of saigas.
The breeding season for saigas begins in late autumn. By this time, the most powerful males after the marriage tournaments, sometimes very fierce and bloody, become owners of harems, the number of which can vary from 4 to 20 or more females. A characteristic feature, through which males can detect a rival even in the dark, are a brown discharge with a specific acute odor. They flow from special glands, which are located near the eyes of the animal.
Sexual maturity of saigas is not achieved at the same time: females are ready for mating already in the first year of life (8-9 months), and margagians, males, acquire the ability to reproduce only from the age of one and a half, and sometimes later. During the rut the main task of the muggers is the creation of the harem, protecting it from the encroachments of other males and, of course, mating with all the females of the group. Often, there is simply not enough time to look for food or rest for males, so it’s not surprising that some of them die from exhaustion. Surviving after the rut, males usually leave the herd and create so-called “bachelor groups”.
Pregnancy saiga lasts for 5 months. In May, before the onset of the lambing period, pregnant females gather in small groups and leave the main herd, leaving deep into the steppe, away from sources of water (rivers, lakes, marshes). This makes it possible to protect the offspring from attacking the natural enemies of saigas – wolves, jackals or stray dogs that gather near the reservoirs for watering.
Choosing a flat area, almost devoid of vegetation, a saiga female is prepared for childbirth. It is noteworthy that, unlike other animals, the saiga does not suit special nests, but produces young ones on the ground. Usually, one female is born with 1-2 babies, but there are cases of the birth of three young at once. The weight of a newborn saiga on average reaches 3.5 kg.
Due to the fact that a whole group of females are sent to the lambing, up to six newborns can be present on an area of one hectare. The first few days of life, the young saigas lie almost motionless, so it’s almost impossible to notice them on areas without vegetation, even from two to three meters.
Soon after lambing the females depart from the offspring to find food and watering. During the day, they return to the children several times to feed them. The offspring are developing very quickly. Already in eight to ten days, saigas can follow their mother. It is noteworthy that males develop horns immediately after birth, and females, by the end of autumn, resemble animals of three-year-old appearance.
Enemies of saigas
Wild antelopes prefer to lead a daily life, so at night it is particularly vulnerable. The main enemy of saigas is the steppe wolf, which is considered not only strong, but also very clever. To escape from it saiga antelope can only escape. Wolves lead a natural selection in the herd of saigas, destroying those who move slowly. Sometimes they can destroy the fourth part of the herd. Dangerous for saigas and stray dogs, foxes, jackals. Most often these predators suffer from cubs of wild antelope. But the newborn cubs of this animal can be threatened by ferrets, foxes and eagles.
The reasons for the reduction in the number of saigas.
Saiga (especially adult males) is an important object of hunting. They are exterminated because of fur and meat, which, like mutton, you can boil, fry, stew. The greatest value is represented by the horns of the animal. The fine powder, which is obtained from them, has found wide application in folk medicine of China. It can reduce heat and purify the body. It can be used to get rid of flatulence, treatment of fever. Chinese doctors use ground horns for certain liver diseases. With the help of this drug, you can get rid of a headache or dizziness, if a small part of it is mixed with other medicines.
Rapid increase in the population of the planet, rapid attacks of cities and industrial enterprises on habitual habitats of saiga antelope and severe pollution of the environment gradually led to a significant reduction in the natural habitat of saigas. In addition, the uncontrolled shooting of these artiodactyls by hunters and especially poachers greatly influenced the catastrophic decrease in their population.
During the Soviet period, this had almost no effect on the saiga population, since there was a program to protect and protect steppe antelope, which allowed even to increase the number of animals to one million individuals. However, after the collapse of the USSR, the work to restore the population was canceled, and as a result, by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, the number of saigas had decreased so much that only 3% of the original number of animals of this species remained.
In 2002, according to the decision of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, saigas were ranked as species on the verge of destruction. Environmentalists began to develop and implement programs that promote the cultivation of mammals in captivity, and began their semi-breeding, so that in the future it would be possible to settle individuals of this species in new habitats or to preserve their gene pool of genes by moving them to different zoos in the world.
The contents of saigas in the zoo.
It is rather difficult to grow saigas in zoos. This is due to their excessive fearfulness and the ability in fear to break out of place with great speed, which leads to injuries. In zoos, saiga often die due to gastrointestinal diseases and infections. In addition, young individuals sometimes do not live to see a year.
There is also a positive experience of keeping saigas in captivity. A small number of heads today live in the Cologne Zoo and in the Moscow Zoo. Here the following rules are observed:
individuals of female and male sex are in different enclosures. This makes it possible to avoid injuries that aggressive males can inflict on themselves or other members of the herd, and also to correct the breeding time. In the mating season, sexually mature males are allowed to enter the pen into females one at a time;
the mating time in the zoo is moved for a month (from December to January) so that the newborns of the saigas do not die from the May night frosts, but appear in the warm season (in June);
the floor covering in the enclosures of these animals must be asphalted, and not ground. This makes it easier to clean and allows more frequent disinfection of premises. In such paddocks kids are less sick, and their survival rate is higher.
feeding in the zoo depends on the season. In the summer saigas eat more grass, and in the winter – hay. The ration is complemented by mashed carrots, barley, quinoa, clover, etc. Salt is added to the troughs, which are occasionally licked with saigas.
The best results for the restoration of the population of saigas were achieved in existing and specially created nature reserves, the natural conditions of which are suitable for the semi-equitable maintenance of these artiodactyls.
In June 2000, with the support of the Society of Zoologists of Munich, engaged in the issue of breeding saigas in Kalmykia, a nursery was opened in the village of Har Buluk, with a special center, whose goal is to study and preserve wild animals in the republic. In the reserve for artificial feeding during the mass calving of female saigas, newborn calves were selected that did not have fear of man. This practice provided an opportunity to form groups that can be maintained and even multiplied in captivity without special problems. Small herds of saigas, consisting of 8-10 individuals, are housed in enclosures not far from cattle farms. For pets, a special diet has been developed here that takes into account all the age-specific features of the development of these artiodactyls. Young people are fed with divorced fresh milk, in which add crushed chicken yolk, a complex of mineral and vitamin supplements. The transition to plant foods takes place gradually over a period of 2.5-3 months.
The positive experience of the semi-free content of saigas enables the development of special farms that will allow not only to remove the problem of the species restoration from the agenda, but also to train domesticated animals for the traditional pasture cattle breeding for Kalmykia.
Similar works are also conducted in the Stepnoi nature reserve, which is located in the Astrakhan steppes, and the biosphere reserve “Black Lands”, where for the period of marriage merrymaking and lambing of females almost all populations of saigas living in the North-Western Caspian region gather.
In the Soviet era, the structure of saiga conservation in Kazakhstan was entrusted to the hunting committees, which were under the jurisdiction of the State Committee of the Kazakh SSR on Ecology and Nature Management. Their powers included control of industrial shooting and protection of wildlife from poachers. The control and protection system was originally built incorrectly.
The state instructed the hunting and communal services to keep a record of the livestock themselves, and the number of the shooting was lowered from the number. Usually it did not exceed 20 percent. To get higher numbers of planned harvesting, hunting-hunting farms overestimated the herd twice. On paper it turned out that they shot 20 percent of the nonexistent mythical herd, in fact they shot 40 percent or more, if you count from the real number.
Since 1985, due to the high number of saiga in the republic, the Kazakh Zoological Plant was given the responsibilities of commercial production of saigas and the realization of its horns on the foreign market. The enterprise was under the jurisdiction of the Kazakh Main Directorate for the Protection of Fauna under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kazakh SSR. From the beginning of perestroika (1985) to 1998, 131 tons of horns were sent for export. So in the early 1990s, the saiga population in Kazakhstan was about 1 million animals, but after 10 years, the number of animals decreased to almost 20,000. In 1993, the legal export of horns amounted to a maximum of 60 tons.
In 2005, a moratorium on the shooting of saigas was introduced, which will last until 2021. In 2014, the number of saigas reached 256.7 thousand individuals. In general, the decline in the number of saigas in Kazakhstan is currently associated with ongoing poaching and infectious diseases. Also, the death of saigas is observed due to the icing of the steppes, which prevents the extraction of food. During Soviet times in cold winters they were rescued by specially equipped feeders. The Ministry of Education and Science in 2012-2014 has allocated 332 million tenge for the study of infectious diseases among the saiga population.
Chronology of the case of saigas in Kazakhstan
1981, April – on the territory of the former Turgai region, 180 thousand saiga head were killed.
1984, February – April – 250 thousand heads died in the West Kazakhstan region.
1988, May – killed about 500 thousand saigas.
1993 – due to the snowy winter, the Betpak-dala population decreased more than twice from 700 to 270 thousand head.
2010 – 12 thousand saigas died.
2015, May – more than 120 thousand saigas massively died in the territory of Kostanay, Akmola, Aktobe regions. A preliminary assessment of the CMS expert mission on the immediate cause of saiga death was confirmed; The immediate cause was a bacterial infection caused by the causative agent Pasteurella multocida, i.e. pasteurellosis.
In the novel of Chingiz Aitmatov “Plakh”, hunting for saigas is described as follows:
A helicopter-raiders, going from two regions of the population, were informed by radio, coordinated, monitored that it did not scatter to the sides, so that they did not have to race again in the savannah behind the herds, and more and more scared fear, forcing saigas to run that stronger, the stronger they fled … They, the helicopter pilots, could clearly see from above how a continuous black river of wild terror rolled along the steppe, along a white snow powder …
And when the persecuted antelopes poured into the big plain, they were met by those for whom the helicopters tried in the morning. They were waiting for the hunters, or rather, the shooters. On the all-terrain vehicle “UAZ” with an open top, the shooters drove the saigas farther, shooting them on the move with automatic weapons, point-blank, without sight, mowing as if hay in the garden. And behind them moved cargo trailers – they threw trophies one by one into the bodies, and people collected a donkey crop. The daring guys did not hesitate, quickly mastered the new business, pinned the unbroted saigas, chased the wounded and also finished, but their main task was to swing bloody mascara by the feet and in one fell swoop overboard! Savannah paid the bloody tribute to the gods for daring to remain savannah, – the bodies of saiga carcasses rose in the bodies.
The story of the Russian writer and journalist Yuri Geiko, which the author considers to be his most significant art work, is based on the description of the illegal hunting of saigas, which occurred at the hunt of a tragic event, and the subsequent proceedings.
Interesting facts about the saiga:
Ancestor of modern saigas is the ancient species Saiga borealis (Pleistocene saiga), which lived in the epoch of grandiose glaciations. These long-disappeared mammals inhabited the cold savannahs and tundra steppes near the glaciers in northern Eurasia, Eastern and Western Siberia, met in Alaska and in the northwestern part of Canada during the life of mammoths.
The distance that a herd of saigas can pass in a day often exceeds 200 km.
According to the Kalmyk and Mongolian beliefs, in Buddhism there is a deity who is the protector and patron of these steppe animals – the White Elder, the keeper of life and the symbol of fertility. Hunters can not be shot when the saigas are knocked into a pile, because at that moment the Starets surrenders their milk.
Eastern medicine suggests that the powder prepared from saiga antlers has medicinal properties.
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