ASTANA -- The death toll in a mysterious mass deaths of critically endangered saiga antelopes has risen sharply to 85,000, according to authorities in Kazakhstan who are still unsure of the cause.
The Central Asian nation's Agriculture Ministry said on May 22 that the die-off was occurring in three northern regions.
The cause of death is unclear, but authorities suspect the culprit is a bacterial infection carried in the mouth and breathing passage known as pasteurellosis.
Kazakhstan is the primary habitat for the saiga, easily recognizable with its distinctive big, bulging eyes, tubular snout, and spiraled horn, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Its numbers, once in the millions, were severely depleted after the breakup of the Soviet Union by hunters and poachers eager to bag the odd-looking steppe dweller for trophy, meat, or the sale of its horns.