Scientists try to find out why 60,000 antelopes died in four days in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan (Next Media) – Scientists are trying to figure out why 60,000 saigas, a critically endangered antelope that roams the steppe of Kazakhstan, died within four days in May.

The die-off continued into June. The country was home to 257,000 of the animals in 2014. Now it has less than half that number.

To understand the die-off, field workers took samples of the rocks the animals had walked on, of soil they had crossed and of water and vegetation had they drank and eaten in the previous months, according to a report in Live Science based on an interview with geoecologist Steffen Zuther, the international coordinator of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative.

Necropsies revealed that female saigas were hit the hardest, followed by their calves. Scientists assumed that what was killing the females was transmitted through the mothers’ milk.

Tissue samples revealed that toxins, produced by Pasteurella and possibly Clostridia bacteria, had caused extensive bleeding in most of the animals’ organs.

Pasteurella is found normally in the bodies of ruminants like the saigas, and it usually doesn’t cause harm unless the animals have weakened immune systems.

So far, scientists think the only possible cause was a cold, hard winter followed by a wet spring that caused the bacteria spread more easily through lush vegetation and standing water.

Scientists, however, are continuing with their research to fully understand a die-off that as of now still remains a mystery.

Saigas live in a few herds in Kazakhstan, one small herd in Russia and a herd in Mongolia.

SOURCES: Live Science, Time