The saiga antelope has great cultural, historical, and ecological importance to Mongolia. So I was proud to be advisor to the Mongolian Government Delegation at the 18th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva to ensure that the saiga received critically needed extra trade protections that will safeguard its survival for generations to come.
Saiga antelope are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN “Red List” of threatened species. Disease and poaching have taken their toll on this ancient animal. Saiga antelope historically ranged into Yukon and Alaska and co-existed with woolly mammoths during the Ice Age. Today, they roam the vast areas of Eurasia, including Mongolia, but they are facing significant threats to their survival.
The majority of the 183 governments that are Parties to CITES gathered this week for their global meeting to regulate or prohibit commercial trade in threatened and endangered species. The Mongolian Government introduced a proposal to transfer the saiga antelope from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I. Appendix II allows sustainable and legal international trade; Appendix I prohibits all international commercial trade and thus provides strengthened protection.
Mongolia has been a Party to CITES since 1996, and this was our first CITES proposal. We are a small and developing country, but we are rich in the precious biodiversity of Central Asia. Global saiga populations used to be widespread and numbered well over 1 million individuals in the 1970s. However, the species repeatedly experienced drastic declines, reaching an all-time low of 50,000 animals in the early 2000s.