ASTANA, September 7 (RIA Novosti) – At least 3,000 specimen of the critically endangered saiga antelope were found dead in central and northern Kazakhstan, local authorities reported Saturday.
About 1,500 dead animals were found on the shores of the Tengiz Lake, while the rest died in the steppe area away from the water, the Kazakh Environmental Protection Ministry said in a statement.
The death toll may increase as more dead saiga are discovered, the ministry said.
It remained unclear what killed the animals. Local environmental experts were working to establish the causes of the die-off, the ministry said.
At least two cases of mass death of the saiga were reported since 2010 in Kazakhstan, both blamed on epizootics, though Kazakh authorities made claims last year that the animals could have been poisoned by grass from the landing site of a Russian spacecraft.
The saiga, easily recognizable by its massive hump of a nose, saw its population plummet from about 2 million in the 1950s to some 50,000 in 2008 due to overhunting. The animal is currently on the international list of endangered species, but remains a target for poachers because its body parts are used in Chinese traditional medicine.