The Saiga (Saiga tatarica) is an antelope which originally inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe zone from the foothils of the Carpathians and Caucasus into Dzungaria and Mongolia. Today they are found only in a few areas in Kalmykia (Russia), Kazakhstan, and western Mongolia.
In 1993 the total population of Saiga was estimated at over one million. By 2000, however, the Saiga population had decreased to less than 200,000, and by 2003 surveys indicated that less than 30,000 remained in the wild.
This represents a population collapse of over 90% in a span of just 10 years.
Ironically, the conservation community bears some responsibilty as a causal agent in the Saiga's rapid population decline, as Saiga horn was promoted by the World Wildlife Fund as a replacement for the Rhino horn sometimes prescribed by traditional Chinese apothecary shops.
The Saiga is recognizable by an extremely unusual, over-sized, and flexible, nose structure. The nose is supposed to warm up the air in winter and filters out the dust in summer.
Saigas form very large herds that graze in semi-desert steppes eating several species of plants, including some that are poisonous to other animals. They can cover considerable distances and swim across rivers, but they avoid steep or rugged areas. The mating season starts in November, when stags fight for the possession of females. The winner leads a herd of 5-50 females. In springtime the mother gives birth, in two third of all cases two, or in one third one single foal.
The females do not have horns (note how their eyes appear to bulge out of their heads).
ARKive has more pictures and some videos of the Saiga antelopes, one of the fastest mammals on earth.
Despite their common name these ungulates are thought to be intermediates between antelope and sheep. The coat is sparse and cinnamon-buff in the summer but becomes white and around 70 percent thicker in winter. The underbelly is light in colour throughout the year, and there is a small mane on the underside of the neck. Mature males have almost vertical horns; these are semi translucent and are ringed in the bottom sections.