The Central Asia region is best known for its enormous expanses of steppe grasslands that stretch to the Siberian taiga forest of Russia, and some of the world’s greatest mountain ranges on earth including the Altais, Tien Shans, Pamirs, and Hindu Kush. This region has some of the most magnificent migratory wildlife spectacles on earth, including over a million Mongolian gazelle, the saiga antelope, the Tibetan antelope, the Tibetan and goitered gazelle, and the Asiatic and Tibetan wild ass. It also contains the “Mountain Monarchs,” the great wild goats and sheep of Asia’s high mountains, including the argali, urial, ibex, and markhor.
The assemblage of wild ungulates that live in the harsh, arid, and cold steppe and mountain environments of the Central Asia region face numerous and growing challenges, including degradation and fragmentation of habitat from development, and illegal poaching. However, a deadly and growing threat is the spread of disease, especially through the rapidly expanding livestock population.
Recent outbreaks of disease have wiped out almost 20% of Tajikistan’s markhor in 2010 (from mycoplasmosis an infectious disease caused by a Mycoplasma bacteria known to infect primarily domestic goats), over 60% of the world population of saiga antelope in 2015 (haemorrhagic septicaemia from a toxic outbreak of the bacterium Pasteurella multocida) and over 50% of Mongolian saiga in 2017 (from Peste des Petits Ruminants or PPR). Other diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease have resulted in large die-offs of Mongolian gazelle, while other diseases such as brucellosis and sarcoptic mange pose a significant threat. These diseases pose greater threats as populations of these animals become smaller and isolated due to other impacts, increasing the chance for outbreaks to result in local extinctions.
Photo Credit: Martin Gilbert, WCS