Results from the 2024 saiga aerial census in Kazakhstan are in!

The results of the Saiga aerial survey conducted in Kazakhstan from 14 April to 1 May this year have been announced.

After processing the data and making the necessary adjustments through cross referencing them with the verifying photographs taken from the helicopter, the numbers of adult Saiga antelope have been calculated. 

The total number of Saigas in the country is 2,833,600 – a 48.0% annual increase. The Ustyurt population is 63 600 (a 60.2% increase), the Ural population – 1 620 000 (a 43.4% increase), and the Betpakdala population – 1 150 000 (a 54.3% increase).  

The huge survey area means it is only possible to count the animals from aircraft; this year, as in recent years, helicopters were used. The counting is carried out according to an approved methodology, developed over many years and improved with the use of modern technology.  

The surveys were conducted in West Kazakhstan, Mangistau, Akmola, Aktobe, Kostanay, Karaganda, Ulytau, Pavlodar and Abay regions, considering the presence of three populations – Ural, Ustyurt and Betpak Dala. In the latter, in turn, there have emerged three quite pronounced groupings with an increased concentration of animals – the main Irgiz-Turgai, Tengiz and now an eastern grouping.  

The survey team was made up of two field groups (45 people), one in the Betpak Dala population and the other in the Ustyurt and Ural populations. During 215 flight hours (15 hours more than last year), the teams conducted the survey over an area of 151,226 km2. The newly emerged eastern grouping at the junction of Pavlodar, Karaganda and Abai Oblasts is in the eastern part of the country. This grouping was included in the aerial survey for the first time – before that there were only estimates of abundance included from ground observations. 

About the survey methodology 

Helicopters flew transects (straight lines) at 5 or 10 km intervals (depending on the density of saiga sightings), at a constant altitude of 120 metres, covering the area in parallel routes. The flight lines should not overlap to prevent the same animals being counted repeatedly. Saigas were counted in a strip of strictly defined width, with the density of sightings calculated. The aggregations were photographed to verify the figures obtained in the visual count, as it is simply impossible to reliably count animals in such large moving herds. Extrapolation was then carried out across the area covered by transects – and only this area – adding a calculation of possible error.  

Processing the survey results 

These annual figures are made using the same methodology which is well established. They are derived by extrapolation and primarily reflect the trend in the species’ numbers, i.e. an increase of over 40%, and the approximate number. These data were obtained in April 2024, before calving, which took place in May, so now, by the beginning of June, considering the successful breeding season, the number of the species will have almost doubled. 

The survey was organised by the State Enterprise Okhotzooprom of the Committee for Forestry and Wildlife of the Ministry for Ecology and Natural Resources of Kazakhstan. The scientific part of the work – i.e. planning the survey routes, data collection, processing the results – was conducted by ACBK (the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan). In addition, representatives of the Institute of Zoology, the Territorial Inspectorate for forestry and wildlife, staff of the relevant protected areas, and the Association of Hunters, “Tabigat” participated in the survey.

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