Kazakhstan said Friday that some 350 endangered saigas were killed, probably by lightning, after villagers found their bodies in the steppes in the west of the country.
The discovery occurred during the calving season of the saiga, which is known for its distinctive bulbous nose.
The Kazakh Ministry of Ecology said in a statement that the probable cause of their deaths was lightning, “as traces of lightning strikes were found on the carcasses.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whose Red List is a scientific reference for endangered wildlife, lists the saiga as one of five endangered antelope species, with a population of about 124,000 adults.
The vast majority of the animals live in Kazakhstan, with much smaller populations in Kalmykia and Mongolia.
In 2015, about 200,000 antelope – more than half the world’s total population at the time – were decimated, scientists later determined, by a nasal bacterium that had spread in unusually warm and humid conditions.
In an aerial survey conducted in 2019, Kazakhstan said the saiga population was estimated at more than 330,000 individuals.
Poaching is a constant threat, fueled by the demand for horns in traditional Chinese medicine. Kazakhstan’s leadership has vowed to fight this crime after poachers killed two state gamekeepers in 2019.