Critter of the Week: Saiga Antelope

CONSERVATION STATUS

 

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

 

KINGDOM: ANIMALIA

PHYLUM: CHORDATA

CLASS: MAMMALIA

ORDER: ARTIODACTYLA

FAMILY: BOVIDAE

SUBFAMILY: ANTILOPINAE

GENUS: SAIGA

SPECIES: S. TATARICA

BINOMIAL NAME: SAIGA TATARICA

 

RANGE

Saiga antelopes can be found in select areas in Kazakhstan and one area in Russia (The Republic of Kalmykia), and they prefer to live in dry environments such as grasslands, deserts, and savannas. On average, a saiga antelope can grow a little over five feet long, about two feet tall, and weigh up to 100 pounds. Comparing fossils found of saiga antelopes dated back to the prehistoric era, current saiga antelopes have not changed significantly from their ancestors.

The saiga antelope has several defining features. The most notable is their large, downward-pointing nose. During the summer, the saiga antelope’s nose helps filter out dust kicked up by the herd and helps cool the antelope’s blood. During winter, their nose can heat up the freezing air before it’s taken to the lungs. Their coat will also change colors from a sandy color in the summer to a pale gray during the winter.

The males saiga antelopes are the only ones with horns. They are thick with rings on the bottom but are only used for mating, not in defense of predators. The main predators of saiga antelopes are wolves, and the saiga antelopes use their speed to escape. Besides being able to run up to 80 miles per hour, they have been known to travel over 70 miles every day during migration season.

Saiga antelopes live in herds of about 30 to 40, composed mostly of females while the males guard the herd. Being able to have enough food for the herd isn’t a concern as saiga antelopes travel large expanses and eat a variety of plants, even some that are poisonous to other animals.

Mating season for saiga antelopes is at the end of the year where males will aggressively compete for females using their long horns. Winning males will have the opportunity to mate with various females in the herd. After five months, pregnant females will come together to give birth in mass; two-thirds of the births will be to twins and the other third will be single foal births.