When geoecologist Steffen Zuther arrived in central Kazakhstan to monitor the calving of a heard of saigas, the country’s native and endangered antelopes, he found some of the animals dead on the ground.
Within days, the entire herd was dead. Similar reports followed from other areas of Kazakhstan. By the end of 2014, the saiga death count was at 257,000.
Zuther says, "It’s really unheard of. 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.”
Now Zuther, veterinarians and conservationists have become detectives, determined to hunt down the cause of the mass deaths.
Live Science reports that researchers believe bacteria played a role in the tragedy but have no idea how normally harmless microbes could cause such an event.