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Kazakhs Probe Mass Death Of Rare Saiga Antelope

Thousands of antelopes have died
Thousands of antelopes have died
ASTANA -- Kazakh authorities have launched an investigation into the mass death of the endangered saiga antelope in the west of the country, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Nurdaulet Suindikov made the announcement in Astana on May 27.

Suindikov repeated earlier official remarks that an outbreak of pasteurellosis, an infection of the lungs, had killed about 12,000 antelopes in West Kazakhstan Oblast's Zhanybek district this month.

On May 25, Yerlan Nysanbaev, chairman of the regional Forestry and Hunting Department, told journalists that the number of the animals found dead was 2,000, and that all of them appeared to have been poisoned.

The saiga antelope was nearly extinct in the 1920s but made a comeback in the 1950s thanks to conservation efforts. But the saiga antelopes' horns are increasingly used in Chinese traditional medicine and the animals are often the victims of poaching.

The saiga antelope is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The total saiga population is estimated at about 50,000. They live mainly in the republic of Kalmykia in southern Russia, three areas of Kazakhstan, and two remote areas of Mongolia.