Stepnoy saiga populations hopeful to rise with successful rutting season

Stepnoy Sanctuary staff observe saiga antelopes in rutting season.This report comes courtesy of Vladimir Kalmykov, Director of the Stepnoy Sanctuary in Russia.

Winter is a very important season of preparation for saiga antelopes. The cold weather kicks off rutting season for male saiga antelopes.

Every year, at the end of November and beginning of December, male saiga antelopes gather and prepare for rutting season in the Stepnoy Sanctuary. IFAW supports the sanctuary and is committed to protecting the critically endangered saiga antelope.

The males grow their mating coats, which includes growing long “whiskers” and a collar of dark fur around their necks. Fights start between males. These fights allow the males to demonstrate their strength to the females. While the males fight, the females appear completely indifferently to their “duels”. Depending on the results of these fights, the mixed saiga herds will divide into separate groups.

In the Astrakhan steppe, the beginning of winter is unpredictable and unstable. Weather can vary between rain, snow, storms and freezing or warm temperatures. In order for saiga males to have a successful rutting season, they need frosty weather. We could tell from their behaviour that they were waiting for colder temperatures to arrive.

The first ten days of December 2016 turned out to be the best weather for the males. When -15° C settled in the territory, and there was enough food, approximately 3,000 saiga females came together.

According to observations made by the Stepnoy Sanctuary staff, the rutting season of saiga antelope in December of 2016 was very successful, due to the very low proportion of males in the population (3.5 percent in 2016 vs. 10-15 percent during higher population years) to females. This is a considerable success because a few years ago the number of males in the saiga population within the territory of the North-Western Caspian Sea Region did not exceed one percent.

The registered population increase is made possible by reinforced protection organized within the Sanctuary’s territory, including 24/7 support and participation of officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Astrakhan Region and the Republic of Kalmykia.

Saiga antelopes are not the only ones who are busy with the mating season. Foxes and wolves inhabiting the sanctuary are also starting their mating season.

All in all, we have hope that in spring 2017 the saiga population will increase considerably in the North-Western Caspian Sea Region.

The Stepnoy Sanctuary thanks IFAW for its unwavering support!

--VK

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