By Susan Lieberman
April 21, 2019
Nearly a half century ago, we observed the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Only a year earlier, the Endangered Species Conservation Act had for the first time facilitated the creation of a list of animals “threatened with worldwide extinction” and prohibited their importation without a permit.
The 1969 act called for an international meeting to adopt a convention to conserve endangered species, and helped lead to the signing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973. On Dec. 28th of that year, the 1969 act was replaced by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The ESA serves as the vehicle through which the United States implements the CITES convention.
A month from now the CITES Parties (governments that have joined the treaty) will meet for the 18th time since 1973, in Sri Lanka. There, CITES representatives will decide on proposed changes to the list of species on the Convention’s Appendices, among other decisions. There will be a great deal said about elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and other iconic species.
As recently as the 1970s, when Earth Day was first celebrated and CITES came into being, saiga numbered well over 1 million individuals. However, the species repeatedly experienced drastic declines in the late 20th century.
But another little-known and bizarre-looking species of antelope — the saiga — will attract attention as well. This year’s Earth Day theme is “Protect our Species,” and saiga should be high on that list.
The saiga antelope lives in the open steppe/grassland habitats of Central Asia in nomadic herds of up to 1,000 individuals, and undertakes irregular seasonal migrations. It is found in the wild in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Mongolia. As recently as the 1970s, when Earth Day was first celebrated and CITES came into being, saiga numbered well over 1 million individuals.
However, the species repeatedly experienced drastic declines in the late 20th century, and the global population is…