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22 Juni 2005

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 30,000 today.

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

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