Back in 2015, 200,000 wild saiga antelopes collapsed and died suddenly in Kazakhstan from a bacterial infection, more than two-thirds of the entire global population, NB, Covid-19, African Swine Fever and Avian Flu are viruses, not bacterial. Scientists found that there were unusually warm temperatures and high humidity in the days leading up to the wildlife deaths. The same was found for two previous mass die-offs of antelopes in 1981 and 1988, when 400,000 died in central Asia, according to Prof Richard Kock of the Royal Veterinary College London. Saying, "The whole thing was really extraordinary," he said. "It's very very likely to happen again."
And it has, during May and early June 2020, researchers have discovered more than half of the country's herd, around 130,000 have died. The extent and speed are really unheard of according to veterinarian Steffen Zuther who believes bacteria is to blame for the death of the saigas.
The deaths are not just occurring in Kazakhstan. Back in 2017, TBW reported nearly 1,000 saiga - tawny steppe land antelope distinguished by wacky bulbous noses and a penchant for long-distance travel - have died on the plains of western Mongolia's Khovd Province, however, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the likely culprit is a viral infection called the Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), also known as ovine rinderpest or goat plague, a dread disease of domestic sheep and goats that can have a 90 per cent fatality rate. The deaths amount to almost ten per cent of the total population of this distinct Mongolian subspecies, which is less numerous and less migratory than the saiga on the other side of the Altai Mountains in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia.
Mongolia experienced its first recorded PPR outbreak among livestock in September 2016, and it's possible that the virus hopped to saiga on winter rangeland where the antelope overlap with domestic herds. It's an unprecedented situation, as the FAO notes in a press release: "While wildlife has long been considered potentially vulnerable, relatively few actual cases of PPR infection have been documented in free-ranging wild goat-like species and never in free-ranging antelope." The PPR plague may be novel, but disease outbreaks and mass die-offs are nothing new for the saiga, which in 2014 was thought to number some 262,000 worldwide. Numerous large-scale fatality events have occurred in recent decades among the more widespread western subspecies.
Animal Die-Offs 2020