Kazakhstan authorities have said that one-third of the saiga antelope population have mysteriously died in the last few days.
Around 85,000 have been reported dead by the Kazakhstan agriculture ministry on Friday, with experts flying in to investigate the cause.
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** Update: The death toll of iconic saiga antelopes has soared to around 120,000, almost half of the world’s remaining population according to unofficial estimates.
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“The current official figure is 85,000, but we are hearing unofficial estimates in excess of 100,000, approaching 120,000,” says Aline Kühl-Stenzel of the UN Convention on Migratory Species.
The ministry says it suspects the animals, which are recognizable for their distinctive humped snout, may have been struck by an epidemic of pasteurellosis caused by a bacterial infection.
Officials say international veterinarian experts have been flown to Kazakhstan to study other possible causes for the catastrophic die-off.
The number of saiga plummeted in the 1990s as a result of poaching. At the latest Kazakh government count in 2014, the saiga population stood at 257,000.
Saiga are also found in smaller numbers in parts of Russia.