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Mysterious Disease Kills Off Thousands Of Rare Saiga Antelope

Saiga Antelope Death

Around 120,000 critically endangered saiga antelopes have died this month from unknown causes which, according to some scientists, might be linked to the spread of a mysterious disease.

The saiga, which once roamed central Asia in the millions, is now primarily confined to three areas of Kazakhstan and two isolated areas of Mongolia, with around 90 percent of the world’s population residing in Kazakhstan.

According to the Agriculture Ministry of Kazakhstan, nearly 121,000 dead carcasses have already been reported. The total population prior to the deaths, according to Reuters, was previously estimated to be around 250,000.

As of May 27, the Agriculture Ministry placed the number of dead saigas at 120,977 with almost 90 percent being females. Numbers which raise concerns for the endangered antelope’s ability to restore its rapidly dwindling population.

Ministry scientists think that the deaths might be attributed to pasteurellosis, a disease which attacks the lungs and is responsible for having killed nearly 12,000 saigas in a 2010 epidemic.

The ministry has set up a working group and invited experts from the United Kingdom, Germany and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to provide assistance into their investigation of the deaths.

According to a report on New Scientist, the deaths began on May 10 and within days, rose to 27,000 at which point, the Kazakh government requested help from the UN Convention on Migratory Species.  A team of vets, led by Richard Kock of the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, UK, was one of the first on the scene.

Kock referred to the sudden die-off as not only “traumatic,” but “very dramatic” in light of the level of mortality witnessed.

It’s very dramatic and traumatic, with 100 percent mortality.  I know of no example in history with this level of mortality, killing all the animals and all the calves.

The animals are said to experience severe diarrhea and difficulty in breathing prior to their death.

Knock and his team are looking at three possible diseases as the cause of these deaths. One of the diseases is, according to Tech Times, pasteurellosis  the same disease initially suspected by the Kazakh government.

Pasteurellosis, which is caused by hemolytic septicemia, is a highly fatal infection most often seen in bison, cattle and water buffalo.  The disease is transferred from one animal to another through direct contact with infected oral or nasal secretions.  An infected animal can die within 8 to 24 hours.

Another possibility could be the epizootic hemorrhagic disease which is mostly seen in white-tailed deer, mule deer and occasionally in pronghorn antelope.  The disease is primarily transmit through mosquito bites.

The last possibility the researchers are examining is toxemia, which is caused by clostridia bacteria.  The sickness is derived from clostridial organisms found in contaminated food which, when consumed by an animal, produces toxins in the blood.

Kock indicated that more tests are necessary in order for them to reach any firm conclusions as to which of the three is truly responsible for the dead siaga antelopes.

In happier endangered species news, Immortal News reported on the successful rehabilitation and release of sea turtles in Southern Carolina.

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