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Rampant infection hits rare Mongolian Saiga
Central Asia | society | 17:12, 11 January 2017 | 4764

AKIPRESS.COM - The Mongolian Saiga (Saiga tatarica mongolica) is one of the rarest species of antelope in the world and is only found in the Altai-Sayan eco-region. Unfortunately, this endangered animal is perishing in large numbers because of the outbreak of a disease, reports news.mn.

Starting in December 2016, WWF-Mongolia began to receive information about cases of the antelopes dying in their natural habitat in the west of the country. A joint investigation was launched in the Khovd and Gobi-Altai provinces by local representatives of the Environmental and Inspection Agency and rangers; it was revealed that over 500 saiga have died as a result of the outbreak.

Sadly, the number of dead saiga is increasing each day. A sample from the body of one animal was sent to the Central National Laboratory; the results of the preliminary investigation show that the disease is the 'ruminants virus' (Peste-des-petits). Last year, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) imposed quarantine because thousands of sheep and goats have died as a result of this highly contagious disease. All the livestock were vaccinated which enabled the quarantine to be lifted a month ago.

Experts confirmed that the location of current disease outbreak corresponds with the previous quarantine area. This evidence helped the experts to conclude that the saiga have been infected from the livestock. WWF-Mongolia is cooperating with related agencies to identify hot-spots and exchange information through the saiga rangers’ network. The organization is also working to provide accurate and reliable information about the ruminants virus because of the risk of conflict between wildlife and humans as a result of saiga disease.

Since 1998, WWF-Mongolia started a Mongolian Saiga conservation programme with the support of local governments and communities. This has been funded by the MAVA Foundation. As a result of the joint conservation efforts the population reached 14600, and its range area expanded by 13% as of 2015. Due to the dzud (an unnaturally harsh winter), during winter of 2001/2002, the antelope population was fell to 750 animals. The current dzud combined with the disease does not bode well for the Mongolian Saiga.

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