The Saiga (Saiga tatarica): on the verge of extinction

Commonly known as Saiga, Mongolian Saiga, and Saiga Antelope, Saiga tatarica (Bovidae) is a very distinctive looking antelope, with a large, proboscis-like nose which hangs down over its mouth.

The Saiga’s nose has a unique internal structure: the bones are greatly developed and convoluted, and the long nostrils contain numerous hairs, glands and mucous tracts. The trunk-like nose of the Saiga is a striking example of an exaggerated trait, assumed to having evolved as a dust filter for inhaled air. In addition, it functions to elongate the vocal tract in harem saiga males for producing low-formant calls that serve as a cue to body size for conspecifics.

Two subspecies are recognized: Saiga tatarica tatarica, and Saiga tatarica mongolica. The nominate subspecies is found in one location in Russia, while the Mongolian subspecies is found only in western Mongolia.

Renowned for its high reproductive potential, the species was thought to be able to withstand even relatively high levels of hunting for its horns - less than 20 years ago, the total saiga population stood at more than one million, and appeared relatively stable. However, intensified poaching pressures during the 1990s, coupled with a breakdown of law enforcement following the collapse of the Soviet Union, caused numbers to plummet to fewer than 50,000 in just one decade – one of the most sudden and dramatic population crashes of a large mammal ever seen.

Currently the Saiga is classified as Critically Endangered species on the IUCN Red List. 

References: [1] - [2] - [3]

Photo credit: [Top: ©Igor Shpilenok | Locality: unknown] - [Bottom: ©Xavier Bayod Farre | Locality: captive at Kölner Zoo, Humboldtkolonie, Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 2007]


Markhor (Capra falconeri)

…a species of wild goat that is distributed throughout the mountains of central Asia, with populations also found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Like other goats the markhor is an expert climber and is often seen on rock faces and cliffs. Markhor are active during the day and feed mostly on tusscok grass, however during the winter they will switch to shrubbery. Markhor live in small groups that consist of females and young, males usually live alone. However, during the rut the males will join the herds and compete for mates. Currently the markhor is listed as endangered with around 2,500 individuals left in the wild. This is thought to be due in part to hunting and habitat loss.

they are also the national animals of Pakistan.



Image Source(s)


Philippines: A treasure lost before it was found
By Darrell D. Blatchley, 10th August 2014;

The word treasure draws different emotions and reactions from people. It could be images of a cave filled with rubies, diamonds and gold bars. Or it could be a dead whale on a beach.

This is that story.

On December 19, 2012, D’ Bone Collector Museum Inc. received a call from Maco, a small town in Compostela Valley province. Two large “dolphins” had stranded and needed help. As we rushed to the site, (it’s an hour and 30-minute drive from Davao City) a text came in saying one dolphin had died and that the other was still strong. “Release it” if it swims strong, we told them. At first the smaller one would not swim off until it nestled one last time against the larger “dolphin” then slowly, it swam away.

When we got there we saw that this was first, not a dolphin and; two, the smaller one was its baby. It had stayed with its mother until she died, and sensing her mother was dead, continued on without her. To say ‘small’ is an understatement. The baby was 8 feet long. The mother was 15 feet long. At first we thought it was a Blainville’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris). We loaded it and brought it to the Museum in Davao for further study as to the cause of death and preservation.

We arrived at the Museum at 9pm and took pictures of the whale and posted them on Facebook for other experts from around the world to help identify the whale as it was “different” than others we had found. There were things that were not “normal” and within 30 minutes, emails started flooding our inbox.

One expert in Norway said that it was most likely a Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon ginkgodens). A whale that has only stranded in the Philippines once and estimated 20 times worldwide. Immediately we knew we had something rare. With all whales and dolphins that come into the museum, we perform a necropsy to find the cause of death but also to collect biological specimens such as meat and internal organs for DNA and further studies.

We also do castings of the animal to show what they looked like alive.

When we opened the stomach the first thing we noticed was the heavy amount of parasitic worms. Parasites are found in all living animals though a healthy immune system keeps them in balance. If a whale or dolphin is sick or dehydrated, the parasites take over. Inside the stomach we found a two-feet nylon rope blocking the intestines and a piece of coal. Yes coal. It was the first time we had ever found coal in a whale. Coal, even though organic in nature, does not digest. It semi floats on the bottom of the ocean as a shrimp or squid would. The plastic nylon rope was ruled as the cause of death. But this whale’s story did not end there.

A large national paper did a story on the whale as a rare “Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale” dying due to plastic. The DNA results came back that it was NOT a Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale. It was listed under Unknown. To be Unknown is to be unnamed.

Inside the stomach two new species of parasitic worms were also discovered. So this whale was stumping the experts. The Expert from Norway again emailed and said it might be a Hotaula Beaked Whale (aka Derayinagala’s Beaked Whale). So DNA tests were run again to compare the species. They came back positive for that species. The Hotaula Beaked Whale up to this time was not a confirmed species, just a “rumored” new species as no complete animal had ever been found – just fragments, a broken skull here, a fin there. This was the first time this species of whale was seen in its complete form.

In 2013 it was listed as a new species of whale (Mesoplodon hotaula) from only eight ever found and the one from Davao being the only one complete at that time. She is now on display at the Museum. The only skeleton of her species in the world.

So “Treasure Lost Before it was Found”. The Davao Gulf had a new species of whale that was 15 feet long and weighed over 800 kilos. It died due to a plastic nylon rope that had been cut off and discarded. Did the baby survive? We don’t know. It was never reported that it restranded but that may just mean it didn’t strand again near humans.

An animal does not have to bring rubies or gold to be considered a treasure. The fact that the Davao Gulf is so blessed with so many species, some of them new, shows we have a treasure. Would one throw garbage on the Mona Lisa painting? The Davao Gulf is the Mona Lisa of Davao. Let us do our best to protect our treasures, lest we lose them before we even knew what we had.

Source: Mindanao Times

Whalevolution Month #11 – Basilosaurus

Known from the United States, Egypt, and Jordan, 40-34 million years ago, the first discovered fossils of Basilosaurus in the 1830s were originally mistaken for a reptile, hence its misleading “-saurus” name. Measuring up to 20m long (65′7″), it was fully aquatic and recognizably whale-shaped, with vestigial hind limbs and a very long eel-like body.

Although it’s not thought to have been capable of deep diving, instead swimming mainly at the ocean surface, Basilosaurus was none the less a successful apex predator. Its jaws had one of the highest bite forces known among mammals, and fossil evidence suggests that it actively preyed on smaller cetaceans using skull-crushing bites.

Thorold’s Deer (Cervus albirostris)

Also sometimes known as the white-lipped deer, Thorold’s deer is a threatened species of deer that is endemic to the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Thorold’s deer typically inhabit grassland, shrubland and high altitude forests.  Like other deer C. albirostris is mainly crepuscular and lives in small herds of around ten animals. They are grazers and will feed on a wide range of plants, notably grasses and sedges. However they will eat larger plats like willows and rhododendrons as well.

Currently Cervus albirostris is listed as threatened and faces threats from habitat loss and hunting. 


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Image: Greg Geobel


Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) typically live in polygynous herds where a group of females resides within a single, dominant male’s territory. Sometimes, rejected loner males will form all-male “bachelor herds.” These herds are often boisterous and semi-alcoholic and their incessant tomfoolery is considered an annoyance to the local, respectable females.

Whalevolution Month #23 – Macrodelphinus

Roughly the size of a modern orca, about 7m long (23′), Macrodelphinus was probably an apex predator. Known from California, 23 million years ago, it was a member of a an odd group of toothed whales called the Eurhinodelphinidae – cetaceans with elongated swordfish-like upper jaws. Their exact evolutionary relationships are unclear, although they might be related to the beaked whales.

The long snout may have been used in a similar manner to the swordfish it resembles, slashing to injure and stun its prey.


Marsh Deer (Blastocerus dichotomus)

…a large (the largest on their continent) species of deer (Cervidae) which is native to South America, where it occurs in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. True to their common names, marsh deer typically inhabit wet marshy areas like the patanal and gran chaco. They are noted swimmers and can move through the water quite rapidly. Marsh deer feed on a wide variety of aquatic plants (some studies have documented over 40 different species!) with members of Graminae and Pontederiaceae making up most of their diet. 


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Images: Jonathan Wilkins and Leonel Baldoni

‘The phylogenetic position of Cetacea relative to other extant artiodactyls’

'Artwork is by Carl Buell. (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)’

A phylogenetic blueprint for a modern whale. Gatesy J, Geisler JH, Chang J, Buell C, Berta A, Meredith RW, Springer MS, McGowen MR. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2012 Oct 26. pii: S1055-7903(12)00418-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2012.10.012. (pdf)

Whalevolution Month #28 – Odobenocetops

Living off the coast of Peru and Chile, 5-3 million years ago, Odobenocetops is perhaps one of the strangest-looking fossils cetaceans ever discovered. Related to both the porpoises and the narwhal-beluga family, it was around 2.1m long (6′10″), and its long tusks and broad-snouted face gave it an appearance strikingly similar to the modern walrus. Much like the walrus, it was probably a bottom-feeder which sucked molluscs out of their shells with muscular lips and tongue.

Two different species are known. The first, O. peruvianus, had short tusks and no evidence of a melon – suggesting it had lost the ability to echolocate. The second, O. leptodon, depicted in today’s image, had a small melon but also had much longer tusks, with the right one reaching up to 1.2 m long (3′11″) – over half of its own body length.

The function of the tusks is unclear. They may have been sexually dimorphic, with only males possessing the especially long right tusks. They were also likely rather brittle, and when swimming Odobenocetops probably had to angle its head downwards to hold its tusks close against it body.

Despite its close relation to the narwhal, the tusks weren’t actually homologous, instead being another example of convergent evolution.

Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii)

Also known as the Marshbuck, the Sitatunga is a species of Tragelaphus antelope which is found throughout Central Africa, with its range centering on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and parts of southern Sudan, Ghana, Botswana, Zambia, Gabon, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Sitatunga are typically known to occupy marshes/swamps and other wet habitats. As an adaptation to this, Sitatunga posses a shaggy, water-resistant coat which varies by color geographically. Like other antelope, Sitatunga feed mainly on plant and vegetable matter. 


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