Saiga Antelope Facts | Anatomy, Diet, Habitat, Behavior

The saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) is a critically endangered species and it is primarily found on the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains including as far as Beringian in North America. Saigas are typically famous for their puffy noses—a nose that makes the breathing air warm and conserve water.

Saiga Antelope Facts

Anatomy

  • Adult antelopes stand 24 – 32 inches (60 – 81 cm) high and weigh 152 pounds (69 kg).
  • The head-body length measures about 39 – 55 inches (100 – 140 cm). The tail adds 6 – 12 cm.
  • They are mainly recognized by their woolly cinnamon-colored coat.
  • Males have got horns while females lack one. The length of these lyre-shaped horns is about 12 inches (30 cm). Horns are ringed and are transparent amber in color.
  • The Mongolian saiga averages only 24 – 27 inches (60 – 69 cm) in height.
  • There is a sac inside each of the saiga’s nostrils. A sac is a mucous membrane that is meant to moist the warm air which the animal breathes. In extreme cold climates the function of the sac becomes necessary.
saiga antelope facts
Saiga Antelope ©wildnet.org

Range & Habitat

  • Saiga is thought to occur all throughout the Russian Steppes, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan ranging from Kalmyckia to the Volga River (Dzungaria). The Mongolian subspecies is found in the Gobi desert.
  • Saiga’s habitats are wide open tundra with no trees. It only offers wormwood and low-growing cespitose which the saigas like to feed on. They are likely to make homes in open habitats including dense vegetation, steppes, woodlands, and semi desert grasslands.
  • The geographic range of saigas extend Central Asia, Siberia

Behavior

  • Saigas are likely to form large herds but they break and re-form these groups. The herds can be as large as consisting of 1,000 antelopes. As the spring arrives, saigas disperse and divide into 50 – 100 individuals.
  • They are believed to migrate as much as 200 miles northward looking for new pastures.
  • Males lead the herds during migration and they form huge herds of up to 100,000 individuals in each group.
  • In the early April rams begin to live alone or in very small groups. From August to September saigas probably travel towards south.
  • It is mostly most active during the day.
  • Saigas travel at a speed of about 3 – 12 miles per hour (5 – 19 km/h). However, one or more individuals may create panics among the herds. If it is so, saigas run at a top speed of up to 50 miles per hour (80 km/h).
  • Large herds of saiga are known to travel 72 miles a day.
  • While running they hold their heads low off the ground.

Feeding Ecology & Diet

  • Saiga antelopes are regular grazers and they readily feed on herbs, shrubs, lichens, and grasses.
saiga antelope facts
Saiga ©conservationcenters.org

Reproductive Biology

  • In the breeding season (November to December) males find females but they must fight for it. The winner is likely to mate with as many as 50 ewes while the losers become members of the bachelor groups.
  • A female gives birth to 2 offspring in April.
  • The gestation period lasts about 7 – 8 months.
  • The breeding interval is 1 year.
  • Young are least likely to reach adulthood as few of them are killed by feral dogs, snow leopards, foxes, eagles, and wolves while others are left helpless by their own mothers, still others are killed by snowy winter. The helpless saigas couldn’t feed themselves and they starve to death.
  • The female actively defends the young. She attains maturity at 8 months age. Males become mature when they reach 2 years of age.
  • The estimated population of saiga is around 50,000.
  • The average lifespan of males is 10 years while females live up to 5 – 7 years. Many a times it happens that males fight and become exhausted and thus they fall easy prey to predators. Sometimes they die of the fight.

Conservation Status

  • Critically Endangered
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