Many species of modern animals have traveled a long evolutionary path. They survived in the most difficult and even extreme natural conditions. However, now they are on the verge of disappearance. A great influence on this had an active intervention of a person in animal habitats. One of these representatives of the fauna is the steppe resident Saigak (or Margach). This name was given to the male species. The female is called saiga.
Description and appearance
Saigak is a mammal of the sexual family from a squad of greenhouses. Together with the Tibetan antelope, he is sometimes referred to the special subfamily Saiginae. But the official classification reckes it to the subfamily of real antelopes.
The animal has small size and dense physique. Saigak’s body is 110-140 cm in length, 60-80 cm in height. He weighs 23-55 kg. Parameters of females are slightly smaller. The body of mammals of both sexes is elongated, slender and shortlegged legs. There is a tail about 10 cm long and rounded ears.
Unique and characteristic of saigas part of the body is their nose. It is a mobile soft proboscis. At its end there are large, close nostrils. They resemble a heart. This shape of the nose helped Saigak adapt to different conditions of the year. In winter, inhaled air warms up well before getting into the lungs. In summer, the nose works like a filter that cleanses the air from steppe dust.
The heads of males are decorated with long (on average 30 cm) and almost vertical horns of yellowish-white color with dark tips. They are translucent, slightly curved and have an irregular lyroshaped shape. Almost along the entire length of the horns there are convex transverse rings. Females have no horns.
Saygaka fur sand-red on the back and white on the belly. During the autumn molting, it becomes completely light for masking on the snow cover. Winter fur is higher and thick. In the spring, it again becomes rare and red. This shade makes animals less noticeable against the background of steppe soils.
20 thousand years ago, these steppe antelopes lived in Eurasia and North America. They belong to the bright representatives of the mammoth fauna, which existed in the tundrasteppes of these continents during the ice age. In the 17-18 centuries, the steppe and semi-desert territories from the Carpathians to Mongolia were inhabited. Saigaks lived near cities such as Kyiv, Orsk, Tambov and on the Black Sea coast.
In the 19th century, man began largescale development of the habitats of saigas natural zones of the steppes and semideserts. This was reflected in the number of animals. They have practically disappeared from Europe. Only small groups remained in deaf areas near the rivers. Now the range of these mammals is limited by the territories of Eurasia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. In Eurasia, Saigaks are found in Kalmykia, the Astrakhan region and in the lands border with Kazakhstan.
In the Russian reserve “Black Lands” and reserves “Stepnoy” and “Mekletinsky” Saigakov are protected from illegal hunting. At the same time, the animals themselves freely move both in the protected territory and in wild places.
Mammals of this species are completely grassy. To maintain vitality, they need to eat from 3 to 6 kg of plant foods per day. There are more than 80 plants and lichens in the diet of antelopes, among which there are even dangerous species for other animals. Saigaks eat cereals, wormwood, swans, licorice, wheat. Preference is given to juicy tops without eating plants under the root.
Saigaks drinking regime is very unusual. They do not come to a watering water outside the arid periods. In winter, they get water from precipitation, and in the summer they eat tulips and irises rich in moisture. In especially arid times, antelopes can visit agricultural crops: erysipelas, corn, wheat and others.
Saigaki nomadic animals. In search of the best food, they do not stay anywhere for a long time. Live in herds of 40-1000 individuals. There are no leaders. Form harems from one male and 15-50 females. Sometimes such harems exist separately, but after a certain time they are again connected to the main herd. Saigaki choose solid clay or rocky soil as a house, since it is most convenient to run along it. They communicate between themselves with the help of guttural roar and mooing.
The marriage period in Margachi falls on the last months of the year. For the right to possess a female, males fight among themselves. At first they “talk” with low sounds, bending their proboscis. If no one is inferior to the championship, they fight on the horns. The winner is mating with several females. The rutture period for males is very difficult: they do not eat and weaken hard.
Pregnancy in Saiga lasts 5 months. The place for gestation is selected carefully: the territory should be free from vegetation and warm up well. At the end of spring or early summer, females give birth from 1 to 2 cubs. Their mass is 3.5 kg. Kids lie the first week of life. Then they begin to gradually learn to walk next to their mother. Two weeks later, they walk and run fully. On breastfeeding they are 3 months old, and then they are ready to eat plant foods.
The number of saigas
In the 20s of the XX century, Saigak was almost completely exterminated. Helped on time taken security measures. The number of Saigak has increased markedly by the 1950s and amounted to more than 2 million representatives of the species only on the territory of the former USSR. Then the hunting for the mammal became again uncontrolled (and with the filing of some animal protection organizations). Since then, the number of Saigakov has been steadily declining.
In 1960-1980, in the Caspian territories, their number ranged between 180 and 250 thousand individuals. Officially in 1987 the number was 140 thousand. And after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the level of poaching increased. By 2006, there were already only 20 thousand antelopes in Eurasia, and in 2015 only 5 thousand. Such a largescale decrease in numbers was not observed in any mammal in recent history. As of 2020, the number of saigas increased slightly 6130 individuals. However, such an increase is still difficult to call the restoration of the population.
The International Union of Nature Conservation attributes Saigak to species under the threat of disappearance. The lack of sexually mature males in herds is very affected. With a norm of 18-20% of the total number of animals, there are only 2-5%. Now Saigaks have been preserved mainly only in reserves. Here, measures are actively held to preserve this redhot appearance: protection from poachers, fires, as well as drilling artesian wells to provide antelopes with drinking water.
Thanks to wells, antelopes always have a watering place. This is especially necessary in the conditions of steppes and semideserts. Over time, wells clog with sand. Iron salts form on the pipes. Deposits prevent the water from going up to the surface. In this regard, it is necessary to do periodic well cleaning. It is carried out by punching traffic jams from sand deposits and salts with subsequent flushing. To save the steppe animals from thirst, it is planned to strengthen the flow of groundwater with pump pumps.
Saigak’s natural enemies and other threats
The life expectancy of this steppe resident is small. Males live in the wild for about 7 years, and females are a little more 10 years old. In zoos with good care and regular nutrition, margachi live up to 12 years. The absence of enemies who hunt saigas in the wild also affects.
The most important natural enemy of Saigak is the wolf. Usually wolves await their victims at the watering, where herbivores are more vulnerable. Saigaks insure themselves because they always leave the duty officers. In the event of a predator, the Saigaks on duty bounce with a candle, thereby warning the others about the danger. A wave of jumps quickly passes throughout the herd, and animals run away. Light prey for wolves are most often weakened individuals or kids. They cannot be caught up with adults and strong saigas in an open steppe area. Antelopes develop speeds up to 80 km/h, while wolves are only 50 km/h.
The number of saigas is also affected by other causes of a natural nature: natural degradation of soils and vegetation, drying of water bodies, climatic changes and natural factors. For example, with a sharp temperature difference in winter, after a small thaw, a hard crust forms on the snow cover. She prevents animals from getting herself from under the snow.
Anthropogenic factor plays an important role in the life of saigas. The development of steppes and semideserts and the invasion of animal habitats greatly reduced the number of individuals for many years. Currently prohibited hunting for saigas continues to exist. The desired trophies are the horns of sexually mature males of this species in the countries of Southeast Asia. Due to high demand for them, poaching is difficult to defeat completely.
Interesting facts about Saigak
The steppe antelope, like any other animal, has its own interesting features and great importance in nature:
- Refers to relict species surviving the ice age;
- Is the fastest type of antelopic in Europe. The maximum speed is 80 km/h;
- Hip joints of the hind limbs of saigas are able to move their legs forward and backward. The muscles do not strain. This allows the animal to run for a long time and not get tired;
- For large distances, Saigaki choose foreign wiring (using onesided rearrangement of the legs, that is, left and right alternately);
- The inner surface of the trunk is lined with wool. She plays the role of a filter for inhaled air;
- Despite the impressive size of the horns, their mass is only about 300 g;
- Saigaks have sharp vision. It allows them to see objects at a distance of several kilometers;
- Participate in the recovery of steppe vegetation. They break the flooring of dry herbs, which contributes to the growth of new plants in the territories of pastures and migration tracks;
- Saigaki real nomads. They live in constant movement. Therefore, any attempts to dominate them were unsuccessful. It is also impossible to breed them in highly limited areas.
Saigak in culture and literature
In Kalmykia there is an old belief about a white old man. He personifies fertility and is considered the patron saint of animals, especially Saigaks. From ancient times, hunters never shot animals if they got into a heap. It was believed that at this very time they were finished by the White Elder. To kill the animal at this sacred moment is a great sin, for which an angry old man will definitely punish.
This belief formed the basis of the legend of the “Saigachonok” of the Kazakh writer Dina Oraz. The work of the agenda is about a poacher, which in the will of the White Elder became a saigachon. The story is dedicated to rangers and all the killed saigas.
The fel for the Russian writer Yuri Geyko owns the story “Saiga”, which talks about the illegal hunt for Saigaks, which occurred during the tragic case and his investigation.
Kyrgyz writer Genghis Aitmatov in the novel “Plokh” very lively described the barbaric hunt for these steppe antibears.
Saigaks do not let people close to themselves. The reason is that they were and, unfortunately, remain the object of hunting poachers. But there are many people and even organizations that protect and protect animals from the threat of extinction. There is a center of wild animals in Kalmykia. In it, among other things, they are engaged in the breeding of saigas. Grown individuals are released. Some cosmetic companies transfer part of the earned funds to the Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund).
May 5 celebrates the International Saigak Day. It was accepted by representatives of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Eurasia at a seminar dedicated to the problems of these animals. The holiday was created in order to attract public attention to issues of protecting and preserving this unique type.