Smarter Construction of Railways and Fences Needed to Reduce Threats to Endangered Antelopes in Central Asia Mon, Aug 26, 2013

The new CMS report, which is supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society and Fauna & Flora International, outlines solutions on how to make these potential barriers more permeable.

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Modifying the design of structures can avoid major disruption to the saiga antelope’s migration routes Credit: Rotislav Stach

Bonn, 26 August 2013 - The recovery of the critically-endangered saiga antelope - among the world's oldest mammal species - faces serious challenges from new railways, roads and fences currently being constructed across Central Asia.

According to a new report by the UN's Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), modifying the design of these structures can avoid major disruption to the saiga antelope's migration routes, and prevent a further decline in the population of the species, whose numbers plummeted by 90 per cent from 1 million to less than 50,000 animals in the 1990s.

In Kazakhstan, around 1600 kilometres of additional rail routes are set to be built by 2016 as part of a 'New Silk Road' to increase overland trade between Asia and Europe. This railway corridor will cut through uninhabited steppe areas, directly in the migration paths of the saiga antelope.

The growth in extractive industries in the region is also leading to the construction of new railways, roads and fences in other parts of Central Asia. 

The new CMS report, which is supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society and Fauna & Flora International, outlines solutions on how to make these potential barriers more permeable. It incorporates results the tracking of the movements of the saiga antelope using GPS technology. The monitoring seeks to establish the extent to which new rail lines, roads and fences represent impenetrable barriers for the animals.

"The report offers practical guidelines to decision makers to reduce the impact of the construction of infrastructure on Kazakhstan's unique migratory wildlife and landscape," said CMS Executive Secretary Bradnee Chambers.

Central Asia has the largest intact and interconnected steppe and grassland ecosystems worldwide with major animal migrations. Relocating to winter pastures is essential for the survival of the saiga and other species.

The increase in rail transport and the construction of permanent railway stations could deter the saiga from crossing railway tracks, and render the animals more vulnerable to poachers. The horns of male saiga antelopes are highly sought-after for use in Chinese traditional medicine, which has fuelled illegal trade.

In addition, the construction of a fence along the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will cut through important saiga habitat.

The CMS report, Saiga Crossing Options, recommends urgently removing the bottom two wires of the border fence. Rerouting the rail road could avoid core habitat of the saiga, as identified by GPS data from collared antelopes. Industry, government agencies, conservationists and local communities need to be involved from the outset to maintain migration corridors, says the study. Such actions are essential for the survival of saiga populations, which have only recently started to recover from their major decline in the 20th century.

In 2006, CMS oversaw the adoption of an intergovernmental Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning the Restoration, Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Saiga Antelope which aims to increase political commitment to support the species, and to significantly enhance conservation efforts.

Signatories to the MoU include the governments of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and a number of wildlife and conservation organizations.

Notes to Editors

The Review "Saiga Crossing Options. Guidelines and Recommendations to Mitigate Barrier Effects of Border Fencing and Railroad Corridors on Saiga Antelope in Kazakhstan" by Kirk Olson is available for download:

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as CMS or Bonn Convention) aims to conserve terrestrial, aquatic and avian migratory species throughout their range. It is an intergovernmental treaty, concluded under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme, concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale.

Frankfurt Zoological Society

Fauna &Flora International

For more information please contact:

Veronika Lenarz,
Public Information, UNEP/CMS Secretariat,
Tel: +49 (0)228 815 2409,

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