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Historical range, extirpation and prospects for reintroduction of saigas in China
[ Update Time: 2017-03-19 ]

An assessment of historical distribution patterns and potential reintroduction sites is important for reducing the risk of reintroduction failure of endangered species. The saiga antelope, Saiga tatarica, was extirpated in the mid-20th century in China. A captive population was established in the Wuwei Endangered Wildlife Breeding Centre (WEWBC) in the 1980s. Reintroduction is planned, but so far, no action has been taken. In this study, we delineated the historical distribution and potential reintroduction areas of saigas in China, using a literature review, interviews and predictive modelling. Results suggest that most of the seasonally suitable areas are non-overlapping, and China may have been a peripheral part of the main saiga range. WEWBC is not an ideal reintroduction site due to its low habitat suitability. Furthermore, we infer that two different movement patterns existed historically (regular migration and nomadic wandering). Our results demonstrate the challenges of restoring a free-ranging, self-sustaining saiga population in China. We recommend the setting up of additional breeding centres in protected areas within the potential saiga range in Xinjiang, and the development of a national action plan to provide a framework for the future recovery of the species.

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