CBS News has reported that an entire herd of 60,000 saiga, a critically endangered steppe-dwelling antelope have died in central Kazakhstan. As of 2014, half of the country's herd of 257,000 have died. Researchers are beginning to find clues to the die-off which revolve around some kind of bacteria. How these harmless microbes could kill so many animals is still a mystery. Geoecologist, Steven Zuther said, "The extent of this die-off has not been observed for any other species. It's really unheard of." 

Antelope on the Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana - Credit Getty Images

Saiga are internationally endangered because they make delicious meals for predators of the steppe. Last year 12,000 of these beautiful creatures died off. Because they died so quickly, the veterinarians couldn't get to them in time to investigate the cause of death. A similar die-off of 400,000 saiga took place back in 1988. Researchers and vets have recently been studying the saiga much more closely and have witnessed many of the deaths. Field workers have been taking samples of the saiga environment including the rocks they walked on, the soil they crossed, and the type of vegetation they ate, along with the water they drank. Because most of the die-off happens during the calving period, the mother's milk is being looked at as a cause of the die-off. Researchers have been conducting genetic analysis on the antelope, but all it's done is deepen the mystery. Zuther and his researchers will continue to search for the cause of this highly unusual die-off.

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