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Central Asian agreement to conserve
the threatened Saiga antelope takes effect
Almaty, 24 September: A new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
to conserve the threatened Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica
tatarica) came into effect today. The MoU provides an international
framework for Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan
and Uzbekistan, where the Saiga occurs, to work more closely together
on regional conservation issues.
Saiga antelopes once numbered in the millions across the vast
grasslands of the Central Asia steppe. Another sub-species, Saiga
tatarica mongolica, is found in Mongolia where approximately
1,500 individuals remain.
The sight of these tapir-nosed, goat-sized creatures in their
huge herds numbering in the tens and hundreds of thousands racing
across the landscape once created a spectacle rivalling that of
the wildebeest’s famed migrations in Africa’s Serengeti.
But in only 15 years, that is since the collapse of the Soviet
Union, their numbers have dwindled to an estimated 60,000, mostly
as the result of unsustainable hunting, which is one of the most
dramatic declines on record for any mammal.
A primary underlying driver of the Saiga’s demise was the
erosion of state-controlled management and the opening of strictly
controlled borders, combined with staggering poverty and lack
of economic opportunities after the abandonment of collective
farms in local communities of the four range States. Local people
have been driven to unsustainably hunt the remaining male Saigas
for their horns, fetching up to USD 80-100/kilo and much more
in Asian markets, and for local consumption of meat and skins.
Saiga horns have been a key ingredient in traditional Asian medicines
for hundreds of years.
The MoU was negotiated over the course of four years under the
auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals
(CMS). Kazakhstan has signed today the agreement in Almaty, Kazakhstan,
joining Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan who had signed the MoU earlier.
The signing ceremony took place during the First Meeting of the
Signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Conservation,
Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga antelope.
By signing the MoU, the three countries have agreed to cooperate
and reinforce efforts to conserve and restore the remaining populations
of Saiga antelopes. When the populations are put on a safe footing,
sustainable use of the Saiga for its meat and its horns will be
Robert Hepworth, the CMS Executive Secretary, said: “I
congratulate all attending this historic meeting in Kazakhstan,
which will be a milestone on the road to recovery for the Saiga
antelope. The MoU will provide a lasting basis for collaboration
in Central Asia, a region that is vital to avian and terrestrial
migratory species and which represents a key focal area for CMS”.
Lyle Glowka, CMS Agreements Officer, added: “The MoU is
CMS’s third initiative in the Central Asian Region. We have
been particularly pleased with the very close working relationship
that has developed with countries here on our other CMS MoUs involving
Siberian Crane and Bukhara Deer. We will build on this experience
for future collaborative activities involving migratory species
important to the region, including other Central Asian mammals
such as the wild ass, bactrian camel and snow leopard, as well
as the migratory waterbirds of the Central Asian Flyway, African-Eurasian
raptors and the houbara bustard.”
The international trade in Saiga and in Saiga horns and other
products has been regulated under CITES since 1995. Concerns about
the sustainability of the levels of export authorized by Kazakhstan
and the Russian Federation in the late 1990s led CITES to recommend
a suspension of all Saiga trade from these two Range States. Because
of persistent illegal trade in horn to supply an ever-growing
demand in Asia, CITES furthermore adopted a series of measures
inter alia to improve trade controls, enhance collaboration
between Saiga range States and consuming countries, and support
the CMS MoU and the implementation of the Action Plan.
CMS and CITES are working very closely with the range States
to support the implementation of the MoU and its Action Plan,
“The value-added of CITES and CMS working together on a
species of common concern to both Conventions is immeasurable”
said Willem Wijnstekers, the Secretary-General of CITES. “This
is a good example of how CMS and CITES can combine their regulatory
measures and technical expertise to enhance conservation, management
and development significantly.”
Background information on the biology of the species, the MoU
meeting and the MoU and Action Plan is posted here.
For more information please contact:
Lyle Glowka, CMS Agreements Officer, +49-228-815-2402 or firstname.lastname@example.org;
Veronika Lenarz, +49-228-815-2409. See also www.cms.int.
Tom De Meulenaer, CITES Senior Scientific Officer, +41-22-917-8131
or email@example.com; Juan-Carlos Vasquez at +41-22-917-8156
or firstname.lastname@example.org; Michael Williams at +41-79-409-1528
(cell), +41-22-917-8242 (office) or email@example.com.
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