WATCH: True happiness in the Steppe meeting the saiga antelope
If you are quiet here, you can hear only the wind and birdsongs; no cars, no people, no trains, no planes. But such feeling that life is overflowing around you cannot get even in a big city. And the issues is the life itself which unfolds near the very ground, beetles, rhinoceros beetles, scarabs, grasshoppers, locusts and a lot of other small living things.
Should you start walking, each step you make move the ground, or rather what seemed to be the ground: everything, dozens of insects jump and run away from you.
Because humans are rare guests here…
At first it is terribly scary and you want to scream but you get used to it very fast.
There are no people, only inspectors of the natural protected territory “Stepnoy” and poachers who come here ever more rare due to the work of the strong anti-poaching team and the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s assistance: the Fund purchased two general purpose vehicles, motorcycle, protective clothing and annually allocates funds for petrol etc.
These wild regions used to be the home to hundreds of thousands of saiga antelopes. They survived mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, but our century is threatening to make them extinct so fast, we will not even notice being so busy looking at our screens.
Saiga antelopes are appealing animals with amazing snouts, which remind a bit of an elephant’s trunk.
Millions of saiga used to live on the coasts of England to the Pacific Ocean.
Now only few tens of thousands remain.
Their main trouble is that their horns were found useful by the traditional Eastern medicine. This triggered extensive poaching: only 1% of the now living saiga antelopes now are male, that is those who have horns.
The saiga population in the last 10 years has decreased by 90%, while warehouses in China keep 30 tons of saiga antelopes’ horns. This is the price the antelopes had to pay for their adornment.
Since 2005 IFAW helps the anti-poaching team in the natural protected territory “Stepnoy” situated in the south of Russia.
The natural protected territory became a nursery for the saiga antelopes. Here in the beginning of May for many years saiga antelopes give birth to their young, who learn to walk here and get their first skills of living in the steppe.
During my visit all of the baby saiga antelopes were about 20 days old and they were running no worse than the adults, by the way the saiga antelopes are second in speed after cheetahs and can run with the speed up to 80 km/h.
It was true happiness to meet this now rare inhabitant of the steppe in its natural habitat.
The meeting took place near a water source after a multi-hour wait in hiding, they approached very carefully, looking around, because they are very fearful and rarely let a human come closer than 800 m, and if you are truly lucky – to 150-200 m.
A mother with her two babies approached me by 35 m, she might have felt that I am from IFAW and wish only the best for her.
They struck me by their appearance, they have slender light legs, round, disproportionally big bodies, slender necks and big hawk-nosed heads, when they drink they snort a bit and then lift their noses and shake off the water.
It is very funny.
I also visited the Center for wild animals in Kalmykia where 92 saiga antelopes live in semi-free conditions; there I was able to make a lot of pictures from short distance, and the staff of the Center shared a video of a baby saiga antelope that was only 2 hours old, he is unbelievably cute.
In Russia there is a saying that “it is always better where we are not”, it means that it always seems that it is easier and better to live somewhere else.
But now I understood that it is good, where we are not – it is about the preserving of nature which did not encounter the destructive force of the human civilization.
It is a pity that there are very few places like that that still remain on our planet and it is wonderful that we with IFAW are protecting them and give their inhabitants a chance for the future survival.