YARMOUTH PORT, Mass., Sept. 13, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- According to media reports a shipment of 4,470 saiga antelope horns from 2,235 animals were seized last week by Chinese police and customs officials along the border between Kyrgyzstan and China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Chinese officials have valued the seized horns at more than $22 million. Discovered on September 5, the horns were concealed inside a trailer within dozens of boxes covered with hay.
"In the last 20 years we have seen saiga populations decrease by 95%," said Maria Vorontsova, IFAW Russia and CIS Regional Director. "Last week's seizure in China is yet another shocking wake-up call. Of all existing mammals, saigas are suffering the fastest rate of decline and extinction is a painfully realistic outcome. The only way out for the saiga is for us humans to act now; otherwise we will lose them forever."
Since 2002, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org) has funded anti-poaching brigades to protect saigas at the Stepnoy Wildlife Sanctuary located in the Astrakhan region of southern European Russia. The natural protected territory has become a nursery for the saiga antelope.
IFAW also supports the Ermeli Saiga Breeding Center in Kalmykia, which borders the Astrakhan region. In addition to saiga breeding, the Center releases satellite collared adults to the wild, conducts hormone and DNA analyses, and studies saiga habitat. Last month, IFAW provided emergency food and water to the more than 150 saiga antelope faced with severe drought.
Saiga antelope are classified as a critically endangered species by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Their horns are used as a traditional ingredient in Chinese medicine. Only saiga males bear horns and this gender-biased poaching has led to a dramatic plunge in their numbers to a point where females now outnumber males by 100:1. The killing of an additional 2,235 males as indicated by this latest seizure is a devastating blow for conservationists.
According to the IUCN red list, the population of the critically endangered saiga plummeted in the last four decades from 1.25M to approximately 50,000 individuals surviving today. From the four populations of saigas only one, living in Kazakhstan, is recovering. The saiga population in Russia continues its decline from 18,500 in 2005 to a mere 3,000-5,000 antelope today.
About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
SOURCE International Fund for Animal Welfare