The Mongolian Saiga is the only species in the genus Saiga, and has been evolving in isolation for the last 10 million years.
The Mongolian saiga has an unusual nose shape which is thought to be used for warming cold winter air before it reaches their lungs and for filtering out summer desert dust. During the winter the coat becomes much longer and thicker and is uniformly white. Adult males possess a pair of heavily ridged amber coloured horns.
The Mongolian saiga is a nomadic central Asian species that occupies grasslands. This species forms very large herds of up to 1000 individuals, and makes extensive migrations moving up to 1000km northwards at the start of the summer to take advantage of rich grazing and returning to the southern desert areas in the autumn.
The mating season takes place from December to January at this time. Males gather groups of between 5 and 15 females in harems, which they aggressively defend, often to the death, and they eat very little during this time. Up to 90% of male Saigas die from exhaustion during this period. Females give birth to single offspring or twins within a week of each other in order to overwhelm predators.
The main cause of decline for this species is uncontrolled illegal hunting for their horns for tradition Chinese medicines. Selective hunting of males for their horns has distorted the sex ratio and affected reproduction. Habitat destruction and steppe fires are also threats to this species.
- Order: Cetartiodactyla
- Family: Bovidae
- Population: 50,000
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: up to 79cm (?)
- Weight: up to 51kg
There is currently one population in Russia and three in Kazakhstan.
Habitat and Ecology
This species inhabits the open dry steppe grasslands and semi-arid deserts of Central Asia. This habitat is open and contains low growing vegetation allowing animals to run quickly and spot predators. They feed on a variety of grasses, herbs and shrubs.