Saiga

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The saiga, often called the saiga antelope, is actually not an antelope. These creatures, which are relatively small for antelopes, live in central Asia and are thought to be a mix between antelopes and sheep. The obvious way to distinguish this animal from other antelopes is its big floppy nose. The individual pictured above does have a larger nose than most, but others still have a nose long enough that it hangs down over its mouth! This may be a big nose, but at least it’s not as big as an elephant’s nose. It’s size is thought to help filter out dust and warm the cold winter air before it reaches the lungs.

The saiga shown above is definitely a male, as only the males have horns which go almost straight up. These horns can be up to 10 inches (25 cm) long. This picture was taken in the summer. You can tell this by the color of the animal’s fur. In the summer, the saiga’s back is reddish-yellow, and the belly is an extremely light shade of this color. At this time of year, the fur is very short, only about an inch (3 cm) long. In the winter, the coat can be up to three inches (7 cm) long and becomes a dull gray on the back, and a lighter shade on the belly. The saiga shown above is probably expressing alarm at the photographer’s presence. This is shown by the short tail sticking up in the air as a warning sign to other saigas.

Size

Male saigas are larger than the females. Adult males can be from 48 to 58 inches (123-146 cm) long, with a height of 27 to 31 inches (69-79) at the shoulder. Females range from 42 to 49 inches (108-135 cm) long and 22 to 29 inches (57-73 cm) tall at the shoulder. The males have a larger range of weight, being from 70 to 152 pounds (32-69 kg), while the females weigh from 46 to 90 pounds (21-41 kg).

Diet

Saigas are completely herbivores, and they feed on hundreds of different plants, such as grasses, shrubs, and lichen. It can sometimes be hard, especially in the winter, for the saiga to find enough food to sustain itself. They often need to travel large distances in search of food. In the fall, these animals migrate south for better foraging grounds. While migrating, they can travel up to 75 miles (120 km) each day!

Habitat and range

The saiga lives mostly in central Asia. They can live as far east as Mongolia, and as far west as the ‘stan’ countries (Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, etc.). At one point in time, there were some saigas living in China as well, but in the 1960s, these animals went extinct there. The habitat these animals enjoy is dry grasslands. These areas are desert-like, but still have dense vegetation on the ground. They have no trees or large shrubs though.

Status and threats

Saigas are Critically Endangered, the classification right before extinct in the wild. Some minor threats include droughts, disease, severe winters, and predation from wolves. When saigas try to escape from wolves, they can run up to 50 miles (80 km) per hour! Habitat destruction and poaching are the main threats these animals face. In the early 1990s the saiga population was around one million in the wild. Just about ten years later, however, this number was down to just 30,000. Even though hunting them is illegal, saigas are still killed for their horns, skin, and meat.

Reproduction and young

The breeding season of these animals is quite short, lasting from late November to late December. Males have harems with up to 30 females each. They defend their harems violently, and often take part in fights which sometimes end in death. After mating, the females carry their young for about five months before giving birth to the usually two young. These young must be able to move very soon, because of the predators they may face. They start grazing at less than one week old, and after just four months they need no more milk from their mothers. Young saigas are ready to mate by the time they are 2 years old, and they can live up to 10 years.

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Sources:

 

Photo credits:

  • Saiga – Wiki Commons
  • Mystery animal – Mnolf

 

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