Holiday Ship Deadline 12/16 • Free shipping on orders over $30 • USPS Tracked from USA • "No Questions Asked" Returns Until Jan 15

Spoiler alert!! The story I’m about to share has a happy ending. Let’s take a look at the saiga antelope and its remarkable road to repopulation. It’s all about that strange and beautiful schnoz today.

I’m sure you’ve seen this animal in pictures or perhaps featured in a nature documentary. The saiga antelope is sure to leave an impression with its downward-facing, inflatable proboscis (fancy word for a big, hanging nose).

But it’s more than just a unique nose that makes this creature magnificent. We’ll first get to know the saiga antelope better, then finish with the heartwarming story of its comeback

Habitat

According to fossil records, this animal has been walking our planet since the end of the ice age. In earlier years, its range spread entirely across the northern hemisphere. This went from Alaska and Canada across the Bering strait, through Russia and Eurasia all the way to the British Isles.

Currently, saiga antelope can only be seen in Russia, Uzbekistan, and predominantly in Kazakhstan. Recently, it became extinct in both China and Mongolia. The habitat in which they thrive are grasslands, semi-desert, woodlands, and steppes (grassy and dry plains).

Saiga antelope migrate over far-reaching distances, traveling up to 72 miles in one day. Not even a river will hinder the animal’s migratory path — it will simply swim across.

Diet

These animals are herbivores. They graze primarily on herbs, grasses, shrubs, lichens, and plants. Some of the plants consumed by the saiga antelope are toxic to most animals. However, this creature has adapted to get on just fine with munching them down.

Interestingly, saiga antelope will rest and gnaw on cud after feeding. Cud is the previously consumed plant matter that an animal regurgitates for further chewing. Yummy!

side profile photo of a saiga antelope in a tall grassy field
Close up photo of a saiga antelope in a tall grassy field, leaning down to eat some grass

Features

Male saiga antelopes grow semi-translucent and ridged horns. These gently spiral upwards, up to a length of 10 inches.

Both males and females have a white underbelly with a beige coat that thickens during the winter. They have a short tail and hooves — built for trekking through the steppes.

What you may find surprising, as I did, is that this animal is only about the size of a goat!

The saiga antelope’s most prominent feature — its nose — has been innovatively designed by nature. It’s built with large chambers which help filter air before it enters the animal’s lungs. A suitable capability for an animal that spends its time migrating through dust clouds. It’s also thought to help cool the animal’s blood quickly.

Male saiga antelopes grow semi-translucent and ridged horns. These gently spiral upwards, up to a length of 10 inches.

Behavior

Saiga antelope are very social creatures, forming large herds with which they migrate. When the time comes to couple up, the male lets out a loud roaring sound with its trunk. This auditory signal is his mating call — letting a lucky lady know he’s interested.

Scientists deduce that during the bronze age, the saiga antelope had a close involvement with humans. This is due to cave drawings featuring the animal, plus a number of excavated remains found near ancient human settlements.

A Close Call

As with any living being on Earth, the Saiga has always had its predators and threats. Its natural predators include wild dogs, birds of prey, and foxes.

On top of this, humans have taken a particular interest in the animal for its meat and skin. Like the black rhinoceros, the saiga’s horns are also used in Chinese medicine. They have become increasingly popular as a cheaper alternative since the extinction of the black rhino.

Luckily, the animal is quite resilient as it typically gives birth to twins each year.

It wasn’t until 2015 when things really took a turn for the worst. Suddenly, saiga antelope were dying off rapidly, which had scientists puzzled. This all happened so fast that there were fears that the animal was nearing extinction.

Fortunately, Kazakhstani conservationists and authorities quickly teamed up to resolve the issue. They immediately began investigating the situation, while protecting the dwindling population of saiga antelope from poachers.

Photo taken from afar of a saiga antelope in a tall grassy field

The culprit for this mass die-off was soon revealed — and once again, it’s all about the nose.

Apparently a particular bacteria is found in the saiga’s proboscis; Pasteurella multocida type B bacteria, to be exact. While the presence of this is normal, the increasingly warm climates have caused its uncontrollable growth within the animal. This eventually led to hemorrhagic septicemia (deadly blood poisoning).

However, this was acted upon quickly, and the efforts to save the saiga antelope proved successful. In 2015, there were only about 103,000 individuals. Currently, there are almost 850,000. Yay for conservation!

x