Mysterious Die-Off

 More Than Half of Entire Species of Saigas Gone in Mysterious Die-Off

NOV. 2, 2015

Scientists now estimate that at least 211,000 endangered saiga antelopes — 88 percent of the Betpak-dala population in Kazakhstan and more than half of the species — died in May.

antilope

Credit Sergei Khomenko/Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

 Carl Zimmer

A mysterious die-off of endangered antelopes last spring in Central Asia was even more extensive than originally thought, killing more than half of the entire species in less than a month, scientists have found.

“I’ve worked in wildlife disease all my life, and I thought I’d seen some pretty grim things,” Richard A. Kock, of the Royal Veterinary College in London, said in a telephone interview. “But this takes the biscuit.”

At a scientific meeting last week in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Dr. Kock and his colleagues reported that they had narrowed down the possible culprits. Climate change and stormy spring weather, they said, may have transformed harmless bacteria carried by the antelopes, called saigas, into lethal pathogens. Read more.