One year after a mysterious epidemic wiped out 12,000 critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) in Kazakhstan, the ailment has struck there again, this time killing more than 400 animals.

Kazakhstan Today reports that 442 saiga antelope—including 360 does and 82 calves—were found dead in May. Like a year ago, they fell victim to pasteurellosis, an infection that afflicts the lungs.

But what caused the infection? West Kazakhstan regional governor Baktykozha Izmukhambetov told a cabinet meeting on May 31 that "some sort of poisoning from the flora, which is to say from the grass, is taking place." (Translation via

Once common, saiga were extensively poached after the fall of the Soviet Union. They now number around 85,000 animals in five isolated populations in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia.

The one bit of good news on the saiga front comes out of China, where a domesticated herd at Gansu Endangered Animal Research Center in Gansu Province has given birth to 31 calves since April. There are now 105 saiga antelope at the center. Saiga are extinct in the wild in China.

Photo: Saiga antelope at Zoo Keulen in Germany. By Frank Wouters via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license