Position statement of our NGO partners on the sustainable harvesting of saiga antelope in Kazakhstan

December 10, 2023 v.0

 

1. The Government of Kazakhstan’s central role in the recovery of the ‘Critically

Endangered’ saiga antelope represents one of the most remarkable species conservation

success stories ever. The Government, working in partnership with the non-governmental

partners of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative and other organisations, and under the

framework of the “Convention on Migratory Species Memorandum of Understanding

concerning Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga Antelope (CMS MOU)”,

have enabled the recovery of the species from 40,000 adults nationally in 2005 to more than

1.9 million adults by summer 2023.

 

2. We recognise that the goal of the Government of Kazakhstan is to enable long-term

sustainable use of the saiga and that many of the successful conservation actions made to

date have been delivered with this goal in mind. Additionally, we also recognise that the

unprecedented rise in saiga numbers, coupled with increased localised reports of resource

conflict with local farmers in Kazakhstan led to greater pressure on the Government to begin

saiga culling in Kazakhstan, initiated in October 2023.

 

3. With culling of saiga now underway in the two largest populations in Kazakhstan (known as

Ural and Betpak-Dala populations), it is important to be clear publicly that the saiga antelope is

not a ‘pest species’ requiring control, and that all harvesting must be based on existing best

practice documents and strategies that define clear principles and protocols for the

sustainable use and management of saiga.

 

These documents are:

a. TheStrategy for the Conservation and Management of Saiga Antelopes in Kazakhstan” (the

Strategy) developed in May 2023 by national and international experts under the Convention

of Migratory Species (CMS), as requested by the Government of Kazakhstan, and

b. The 2021 report commissioned by CMS “The Sustainable Use of Saiga Antelopes: Perspectives

and Prospects” that provides clear guidance and principles to follow for any harvesting system.

 

4. If the “Strategy for the Conservation and Management of Saiga Antelopes in Kazakhstan” is

implemented, and follows existing accepted principles for sustainable use, then a clear

opportunity exists for management and use of saiga to benefit conservation of the species,

steppe grassland ecosystems, and people across Kazakhstan. We endorse and fully support the

implementation of this Strategy. Recognising that any harvesting regime presents multiple

challenges, we stand ready to assist the Government to develop the techniques, capabilities,

and resources needed to ensure implementation meets the high standards required. We also

recognise that this Strategy contains actions and readymade solutions that will help directly

towards addressing and mitigating emerging concerns around resource conflict between saiga

and farmers in some areas.

 

5. If poorly managed harvesting of saiga diverges from the best practice guidelines and

principles for sustainable use then conversely, this would represent significant risks for the

species conservation, and may severely undermine broader wildlife, social, and

economic outcomes that sustainable harvesting can offer.

 

6. There is a need for significant investment to develop best practice protocols and

systems for effective saiga harvesting and processing. Investing proactively in developing

and testing these systems and protocols is vital to:

a. Ensure effective consultation with local stakeholders and effective public engagement

through planned communications

b. Establish operational infrastructure and systems to process and store carcasses and

horns safely and securely

c. Establish operational systems for registration and traceable indelible marking of horns

and identification of meat to avoid any derivatives from poached saiga from entering

any future legal markets illegally

d. Minimise welfare concerns during harvesting by ensuring methods and practices

minimise stress for the animals and reduces the likelihood of causing injuries

e. Develop and maintain health and safety protocols to avoid risks to those involved in

saiga harvesting and at harvesting sites

 

7. There are a series of critical steps to follow to ensure the sustainable harvesting regime does

not cause significant risks to the conservation of the target species. For saiga, it is critically

important to stress that hunting should not continue past 15th November, when the

males are forming harems and then all mating occurs. Any disturbance at this time, and

especially any active pursuit of animals, will interfere with reproduction and would likely

jeopardize the stability of the saiga population.

 

8. To maintain public support for saiga conservation across Kazakhstan, it is vital that

harvesting is visibly following systematic plans that are communicated effectively. A

hunting system in line with best practice, alongside effective work to engage local people in the

process can serve to strengthen local support for saiga conservation and sustainable use.

Conversely, if saiga harvesting is (and is perceived to be) carried out without a clear plan with

saiga being reduced in number uncontrollably, then there is a serious risk that national support

for saiga sustainable harvesting will be damaged. It is crucial that we do not lose the national

pride in place for the saiga.

 

9. To maintain broad support for saiga conservation from the global community, it is

vital that saiga harvesting clearly following the Strategy for the Conservation and

Management of Saiga Antelopes in Kazakhstan. Doing so is necessary if the Government of

Kazakhstan wishes to gain support from range states and other stakeholders to enable the

international trade ban in place under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered

Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to be removed in future. This support will be required

if the country is ever to realise the economic benefits that would come from a sustainable trade

in saiga horn. Achieving broad political support to allow international trade will likely only be

possible if the Government can demonstrate verifiably that sustainable harvesting best practice

is being followed, and legal hunting is not undermining efforts to counter illegal trade, which

remains a major threat to the species.

 

Conclusions:

After achieving an incredible conservation success for the saiga antelope, we recognise

that the Government of Kazakhstan is now moving ahead with preparations of a

long-term system of sustainable management and use for the species. Done in the right

way, and following the recommendations within the Strategy, an important opportunity

exists to create a system that both benefits and sustains saiga conservation and yields

benefits for wildlife and people, maintaining pride in the species, and ensuring Kazakhstan

continues to act as a leader in global efforts for conserving this iconic species. We recognise

implementation of this strategy is challenging, and that deviation from the clear standards

it sets out involves real risks to the species’ long-term prospects.

The Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative non-governmental partners stand ready to support

the Government of Kazakhstan and to help secure expert technical assistance and resources

to bridge any gaps needed to ensure future harvesting is in line with its Strategy and is sustainable.

For more information, please contact us here

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