News Release June 22, 2005
Fish & Wildlife Service Helps a Highly Imperiled Russian Antelope
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced it is awarding a total of
$23,400 in grants to assist Russian efforts to conserve the endangered saiga
antelope. Native to Russia, the saiga population has decreased by 95% in the
last 20 years.
The funds, administered by the Service's Division of International Conservation,
will support three saiga conservation initiatives under the Division's Wildlife
Without Borders- Russia program The grant awards will support projects to: (1)
equip rangers of Chernye Zemli Nature Reserve with radio units and field gear;
(2) erect border signs around Chernye Zemli Reserve to warn trespassers and
enhance saiga anti-poaching efforts; and (3) partially fund construction of
a visitor center in Kalmykia where people can learn about saiga antelope to
foster greater involvement of local communities in conservation efforts.
"These grants provide timely, on-the-ground assistance from the United
States, contributing to a global conservation partnership working to ensure
a healthy future for wild saigas," said Acting Service Director Matt Hogan.
"We need to do everything we can toward reversing the dramatic decline
of this unique species."
The saiga is a medium-sized antelope with a cinnamon-buff coat, bulging eyes
and distinctive humped nose used to filter out airborne dust and to warm cold
air before it reaches the animal's lungs. Males have ringed, wax-colored horns
above the forehead which curve and swoop slightly. The saiga antelope was declared
critically endangered by the World Conservation Union in 2002. Once abundant
in the steppe grasslands and semi-arid desert habitat of central Asia, its numbers
in the wild have dropped from over 1,000,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than
Throughout its range across southern Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia,
the saiga is poached for its horns, which are illegally processed as aphrodisiacs
for the Asian medicinal trade. Additionally, local people consume saiga meat.
Because the horned males are selectively targeted for exploitation, scientists
believe the resulting highly-distorted sex ratio of surviving antelopes is exacerbating
the population decline.
Funding for the saiga antelope grants come from the Service's Division of International
Conservation's Russia and East Asia Program, which engages in cooperative conservation
activities with Russia, including information sharing, joint scientific studies,
training opportunities, and a small grants program to assist Russia's nature
reserves and national parks.
"The United States and Russia have been collaborating for more than 30
years on wildlife conservation initiatives," said Steven Kohl, Chief of
the Russia-East Asia Branch. "This long-time partnership allows us to lend
a hand when a Russian flagship species such as the saiga is in danger of disappearing
from the wild. We hope our assistance, and that of other concerned organizations,
will help this animal stave off extinction."
The US, already a strong advocate for saiga antelope conservation, has provided
partial funding for a workshop held in Russia in 2002 and continues to support
ongoing saiga conservation efforts as a party to the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement that regulates
and monitors lawful trade in endangered or threatened wildlife and plants through
a system of permits.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible
for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their
habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages
the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national
wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas.
It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and wildlife management
offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal
wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird
populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores
wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their
conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which
distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting
equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.
For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home
page at http://www.fws.gov