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CMS Saiga MOU Meeting Addresses Conservation, Challenges of Die-Offs and Poaching

CMS29 October 2015: Representatives of the range States of the critically endangered saiga antelope and experts from various organizations met for the Third Meeting of the Signatories (MOS3) to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga Antelopes (Saiga MOU). Participants reviewed the Overview Report on Conservation Status and MOU Implementation and adopted the Draft Medium Term International Work Programme for the Saiga Antelope (2016-2020).

The first two days of the meeting were dedicated to the discussion of scientific and practical problems of addressing threats to saiga antelopes, in particular the recent mass die-off, ongoing poaching and illegal trade, and the fragmentation of their habitat by infrastructure, mining projects and a border fence. In May 2015, more than 200,000 adult saiga antelopes died, including a similar number of newborn calves in the largest population, reducing this population by more than 80% and the overall population size of the saiga antelope by about 70%. Despite an investigation of the die-off by an interdisciplinary joint research team of Kazakh and foreign scientists, the reasons behind it are not yet fully understood.

Participants also recognized that all populations of saiga are still under pressure by poaching for illegal international trade in saiga horns used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and for meat. They also highlighted that the populations in the western Pre-Caspian region and on the Ustyurt Plateau have now reached critically low levels and may go extinct within the next few years. With regard to the Ustyurt population, they noted that it is additionally impacted by the construction of a border fence between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and a new railway, both cutting off the remaining animals from critical winter habitat.

A key outcome of the meeting, participants reviewed and adopted a detailed set of measures for range States and consumer countries to implement through 2020. This Draft Medium Term International Work Programme includes the alteration of border fencing and infrastructure obstructing saiga migration, anti-poaching actions and strengthened wildlife health management. The process of regular national reporting by signatory States was also updated to ensure that progress and compliance with the Saiga MOU can be measured effectively.

The Saiga MOU meeting convened in Tashkent, Uzbekistan from 28 - 29 October 2015, and was preceded by a Technical Workshop from 26-27 October 2015. [CMS News] [IISD RS Sources] [Natural Resources Policy & Practice Coverage of Saiga Antelopes] [UNEP Press Release]