Preserving Wildlife

Saga of the Saiga


We are committed to saving the saiga. This project works directly with saiga antelope Saiga tartarica tartarica, a migratory species of the Eurasian steppes and semi-deserts. The species crashed over the last decade, with more than 80-percent of the population lost due to over-hunting and habitat loss.

This conservation project is unfolding in the Republic of Kalmykia, which is one of the poorest regions of Russia with 60-percent of the population living below subsistence levels. The economy of this region is primarily agricultural, which has contributed to demise of the saiga.

Due to widespread poverty, the saiga’s population is further compromised by poaching both for local consumption and for demand in the Chinese folk medicine market.

This demand, combined with a recent die-off of 12,000 saiga in neighboring Kazakhstan, emphasizes the need for more urgent conservation directed immediately to this species.

In 2000, the Government of the Republic of Kalmykia established the Center for Wild Animals (CWA) of Kalmykia with the purpose of holding a breeding insurance population. Although CWA has made impressive strides in initiating an ex situ population, generating valuable information and linking efforts to protecting wild saiga, only a small fraction of its potential has been achieved.

Through collaboration, the priority is to improve CWA’s infrastructure and scientific capacity. The objectives of the project are to transfer skills and information available from Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2) specialists that will improve the infrastructure and operation of CWA and its ability to contribute to new biological knowledge while creating a healthy, secure, self-sustaining population of saiga.

This work will have an immediate impact on the ability to preserve this critically endangered species.

By Randy G. Rieches, Henshaw Curator of Mammals, San Diego Zoo Global.