© WWF Russia / Urii Graqev
© WWF Russia / Urii Graqev

About the project

The project was initiated, when some dozens thousands of saiga rested from millions population. Moreover, selective poaching of males (for their horns, which are used for oriental medicine) lead to a situation when the percentage of males in some populations was less then 1%. So natural reproduction and restoration of the species became really a problem. In particular, no more then 2000 saiga were registered during the aerial census of saiga in Betpakdala in 2003 (the focus area of our project), which rested from about a million which roamed in this area in the best years. And there were no more the 2-3% of males in the groups.

Project is funded by Frankfurt Zoological Society and implemented by WWF Central Asian Programme. The project started in summer 2002 with the main goal: to stop catastrophic decrease of saiga population in Betpakdala and to reverse the situation with its population dynamics. The objective of the project is conservation and restoration of saiga populations in Kazakhstan with a future possibility for its sustainable use. It includes immediate measures to stop poaching in key populations in Kazakhstan, population monitoring, analysis of the seasonal distribution, ways of migrations, etc. - as a base for practical measures on its conservation.

For effective protection of the species and its habitat it is necessary to implement a system of ecological, legal and socio-economic measures.

We consider it to be very important to join all the efforts on saiga conservation – so 2 agreements were developed and signed by all the partners. One of the Agreements – NGO multilateral – between WWF, FZS, Imperial College London and Republican State Official Enterprise Okhotzooprom of the State Committee of Forestry and Game Management of the Ministry of Agriculture of the RK, Institute of Zoology of the Ministry of Education and Science of the RK and the Kazakh National Agrarian University of the ME & S of RK – representing main national participants of the project. The second Agreement is bilateral – between WWF and the State Committee of Forestry and Game Management of the Ministry of Agriculture of the RK. According to these Agreements we regularly exchange information and try to balance our activities in the way for them to be complimentary, in order to cover gaps in the governmental funding with the project funds.

From the very beginning the project included technical support for anti-poaching activities to the areas, protecting key seasonal habitats of saiga. We started with Andasaiskii sanctuary, which had been created long ago as the main wintering site of saiga. Further monitoring has shown that this area has lost its importance – and some saiga concentrations are registered now in other sites.

A detailed survey was conducted in the frame of the project, including: a survey of saiga distribution in different parts of Betpakdala, during different seasons; questionnaire distribution and analysis (on saiga visual registrations, anonymous data on poaching, etc.- this survey was complementary with the socio-economic study, conducted in the frame of Darwin’s Initiative project).

Important areas of saiga winter and spring-summer concentrations were identified, and teams of rangers, working in these areas, received technical support for patrolling: Kostanai oblast, Karaganda oblast – Zabalkhashie, etc.

Also we started to develop a system of educational programmes, lectures, special forms of work with children and local communities, preparation and publication of leaflets, posters, etc.

One of the most important tools for the species’ conservation is a system of protected areas, which can guarantee self-sustainable development of the population. Okhotzooprom team was appointed and funded by the Government of RK to develop proposals on new protected areas creation in key saiga habitats, and they received some minor complimentary support from our project. FZS-WWF project suppose practical implementation of these proposals on new PA’s development to be one of our main goals.

It’s quite clear, that today’s situation can’t be considered the result of our project alone – but only of common efforts of all teams, and of the Government of Kazakhstan and its responsible bodies – first of all. But the dynamics really creates a base for optimism:

- in 2003 only about 200 saiga were registered in Betpakdaka during the aerial census (with a possible total number about 5000 in the whole area);

- in 2004 – 6900 saiga were registered during the aerial census;

- in April 2005 a herd of 9000 saiga, coming for lambing to the southern part of Kostanai oblast was registered – and special anti-poaching measures are undertaken; 6900 saiga were registered in Betpakdala during the aerial census;

Natural reproduction alone couldn’t cause such a population growth – but animals concentrate in the areas, where they feel safe – and that is the best prove of effectiveness of our common efforts.

Experts of our project participated in the preparation of Memorandum of Understanding and Action Plan for saiga conservation, which were developed by the leading saiga specialists of IPEE RAS and Russian M&B Committee in the frame of Bonn Convention

It is not signed yet because of continuous rotation/changes of the responsibility in relevant Ministries of the range countries. Now the the documents are preliminary approved by all countries and we hope them to be officially signed soon.

Information on different projects devoret tosaiga can be found in a special saiga news bulletin, which can be seen on the following sites: