Two of South Africa’s leading veterinary experts returned from the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, to investigate the unexplained mass die-off of more than 130 000 endangered Saiga antelope in Kazakhstan.
The doctors’ visit to Kazakhstan is funded by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and Paramount Group, the global defence and aerospace business. Both organisations are actively involved in wildlife conservation of endangered species, especially the protection of Africa’s rhinos and elephant population against the scourge of poaching.
The South African team includes Dr Johan Marais, who is one of South Africa’s leading veterinary surgeons and renowned for groundbreaking surgery on rhinos injured by poachers; and Dr Johan Steyl, a senior wildlife pathologist specialising in disease conditions in African antelope. Both doctors are from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort, University of Pretoria.
The Founder of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, Ivor Ichikowitz, says: “We are very grateful to extend our support to the Kazakhstan authorities by helping their efforts to establish the cause behind the mass death of Saigas. We are privileged to have two of South Africa’s leading wildlife vets on the ground assisting the investigations by the Kazakhstan authorities to prevent a similar mass mortality event in the future. Both doctors are world leaders in their respective fields and I am hopeful that they could shed some new light on this mysterious and large-scale mortality event.”
Nearly half of the global population of the critically endangered Saiga antelope died off during May and various efforts are under way to establish the cause. The Saiga is a nomadic antelope that lives in large herds on the steppe grasslands and semi-arid deserts of Central Asia. The Saigas are known to be prone to massive die-outs, but this year’s mass event in the Detpak-Dala region of Kazakhstanis unusual as entire herds are dying.
Ichikowitz added: “We became aware of the Saiga’s mass die-off through our business relationship with the Kazakhstan government and immediately offered our help. Our charitable family foundation initiates and supports wildlife conservation programmes in countries where our businesses operate. Like the rhino, the Saiga is facing extinction and it will require a Herculean effort from governments, academia, NGOs and the private sector to help the survival of the species and protect them for future generations.”
Over the last three years, the Ichikowitz Foundation has committed its resources to supporting conservation efforts through the provision of aerial platforms, combat training programmes for park rangers and more recently the establishment of South Africa’s largest K9 facility and Anti-Poaching Academy that trains detection and ranger dogs for anti-poaching patrols.
The Anti-Poaching Academy showcases the merits of up-skilling conservation officers with on-the-ground training and the impact effective K9 solutions can have in combating poaching activities across the continent.