Wildlife & Biodiversity

CITES CoP 2019: Critically endangered saiga antelope not to get highest protection

Instead of being placed in Appendix I of CITES, a voluntary moratorium by saiga range states not to export the antelope’s horn has now been formalised

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 22 August 2019

An opportunity to protect the critically endangered saiga antelope of the Eurasian steppe was lost on August 22, 2019 after governments refused to accord it the highest protection that can be offered under international law. 

A proposal moved by Mongolia, which is a saiga range state, and the United States to include the saiga in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was rejected at the ongoing meeting of the 18th Conference of Parties (CoP) in Geneva.

“Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances,” the CITES website notes.

However, following objections by saiga range states Russia and Kazakhstan, the proposal was not accepted. Instead, a voluntary moratorium by saiga range states not to export saiga horn will now be formalised. Saiga antelope will now retain their CITES Appendix II listing which seeks to ensure commercial trade will not be “detrimental to the species”.

Saiga antelope, which are instantly recognisable by their distinct long noses, once ranged across Eurasia, from the Carpathian mountains in Romania to Mongolia.

The species has been excessively hunted from time immemorial for its skin, flesh and horns. Only males bear horns, which are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a cheaper substitute for rhinoceros horn.

“The many recent seizures of saiga horn demonstrate the determination of criminals to launder saiga horns into consumer markets. The devastating impact of saiga poaching is demonstrated by populations skewed heavily towards females. Saiga horns can fetch prices far in excess of those paid for ivory,” said Vorontsova.

Originally occurring across a vast territory of Asia, the antelope with the elongated nose is now limited to a much more confined part of Russia and Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Only 4,000 saiga currently remain in the wild in Russia, with around 4,900 in Mongolia and more than 150,000 in Kazakhstan.

The antelope are also susceptible to mass die-offs, with the most recent occurring in May 2015, when more than 200,000 antelope perished in Kazakhstan.Scientists have blamed the bacterial infection Pasteurellosis for the die-off.

“We’ve already lost almost 80% of the population of the species in a single decade due to their susceptibility to disease, loss of habitat, poaching for their horns and illegal trade,”said Vorontsova.

“Right now, saiga numbers are 334,000 saigas in Kazakhstan, around 6,000 in Russia and 3,000 in Mongolia,” Vorontsova added.

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