UB Post: "Can Mongolia unilaterally protect iconic Saiga Antelope?"

September 10, 2019

On August 22, an opportunity to provide highest protection to endangered Saiga Antelope was lost due to opposition from Russia, China and Kazakhstan. During the 18th Conference of Parties, held from August 17 and 28, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva, the proposal submitted by Mongolia and the US to confer highest protection (Appendix-I), which prohibits international commercial trade in threatened species, to Saiga Antelope (a critically endangered species found in steppes), was turned down by the other Saiga range states. Instead, the elongated nose antelope remains in the Appendix-II, which allows controlled exploitation of the endangered species.

Despite rejection from other range states, a consensus has reached to formalize an existing voluntary moratorium by Saiga range states not to export any Saiga horns. Contrary to the need of the hour, the Mongolian Saiga antelope are unable to evade the commercial interest which will be detrimental to the species survival. Does a zero commercial quota at CITES protect Saiga?

At Geneva, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, the EU, and China opposed the Mongolia sponsored proposal on the basis that if the proposal were to include all populations of Saiga in range countries. The argument was provided that in Kazakhstan the population of Saiga has already bounced back including national moratoria in range states on hunting have been in place. As usually it occurs in CITES, a split-listing of Saiga would encourage illegal trade as well as enforcement would be inefficient. The Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, the EU, and Uzbekistan and others supported a proposed amendment to the Mongolia proposal of zero export quota for Saiga to curb international trade.

Despite getting increased attention internationally, the endangered species is vulnerable in verge of extinction in Mongolia. Once roaming across Eurasia, from the Carpathian Mountains in Romania to steppes in Mongolia, the Saiga is now confined to numbers 3,000 in Mongolia, 6,000 in Russia, 500 in Uzbekistan, a few in Turkmenistan and 334,000 in Kazakhstan. With more than two million in number as recently as in 1970s, the species experienced drastic decline, reaching an all-time low of about 50,000 animals in the early 2000s in range states.

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AVILASH ROUL, The UB Post, August 30, 2019