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Half the population of this endangered antelope has died off in a two-week period

Scientists are working to come up with an explanation for what has happened.

Image: Shutterstock/Vladimir Sevrinovsky

SCIENTISTS ARE STRUGGLING to explain why half of a particular species of antelope died off in a two-week period earlier this year.

The adult saiga antelopes, most of which reside on the plains of Kazakhstan, saw a population drop of at least 150,000.

The animal is regarded as extremely endangered and is known for its highly unusual appearance, with large protruding eyes and serrated tusks.

Its population numbers had previously undergone big dips, falling from 1.25 million in the mid-1970s to around 30,000 in 2003. The die-off this year happened in May, and scientists have been investigating since then.

Before it happened, it was estimated that there was around 250,000 to 320,000 of the animals in the world.

While it is unclear exactly what happened to cause the deaths, a number of theories have been advanced.

The Guardian is reporting that it may have been a bacteria called pasteurella that lies dormant in the throats of the animals could be to blame for the deaths – with an expert speculating that an unknown factor might have triggered its activity.

Kazakhstan activists have speculated that fuel from Russian rockets may be to blame.

It is thought that the repopulation of the animal may be difficult, as infrastructure investment in the countries it is native in has blocked a number of its migratory paths.

A UN-backed meeting at the end of last month saw an agreement between countries where the animal is native on taking measures to restore its population.

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