A tragic and bizarre mystery has been happening, and it started in late May.
When geoecologist Steffen Zuther and his colleagues arrived in central Kazakhstan to monitor the calving of one herd of saigas, a critically endangered, steppe-dwelling antelope, veterinarians in the area had already reported dead animals on the ground.
“But since there happened to be die-offs of limited extent during the last years, at first we were not really alarmed,” Zuther, the international coordinator of the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, told Live Science.
Bacteria might have played a role in the recent saiga deaths, according to a report, but the exact cause is still a mystery. Some have even went as far as to say that it could be some type of plague.
As Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone, say: “AIDS takes 10 years to kill its victim. The Ebola virus can take as little as 10 hours.
Preston’s book and the Hollywood movie Outbreak helped persuade Americans of the increasing danger of killer viruses, including many thought only recently to be extinct or under control.
Cholera, dengue, yellow fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis and other infections are increasing exponentially throughout the world. In an age of supersonic international travel, its a wonder the outbreaks haven’t been worse.
Flesh eating bacteria, the Marburg virus, whooping cough, Cryptosporidium, toxic shock, the list goes on and on. The world has already entered a deadly new age of plagues.
Yet still, massive die-offs have struck saigas before, such as one that took the lives of 12,000 last year, but this one was unprecedented.
“The extent of this die-off, and the speed it had, by spreading throughout the whole calving herd and killing all the animals, this has not been observed for any other species,” Zuther told Live Science.
For now, there are still thousands of healthy saigas in the world, but they are still an endangered species — thankfully, scientists will continue to investigate the specific cause of saiga deaths. Hopefully, they’ll find the answer soon.
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