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LIVING LEGEND OF THE AKTOBE STEPPES

Zhubanov University has launched a large-scale project to study saigas and transform ancient animals into a mascot for youth and the symbol of Aktobe.

The saigas have experienced many things: glacial periods and warming of the climate, barbaric extermination by humans, natural epidemics. But if you can learn about mammoths, for example, only from paleontological findings, then saigas are still a decoration of our area. A unique hardy animal is a true legend of the Aktobe steppes, which should become a landmark and symbol of the region. For this purpose, Zhubanov University has launched the project “Aktobe – akbokender mekeni”.

At the first stage of research, Zhubanov University scientists conducted an expedition to the Irgiz-Turgay reserve. Together with specialists of the protected area biologists, geographers, ecologists and historians of Zhubanov University for 3 days studied one of the oldest antelope species in the world, most of which lives in Kazakhstan.

During the expedition, the scientists deepened their knowledge of vegetation and animal nutrition, the specifics of the biological species, population and migration of saigas.

Abdumurat Abdukarimov, senior lecturer at the Department of Biology:

– We were able to observe the migration of saigas. Now in autumn they are moving to southern territories to prepare for their breeding season. It is undoubtedly a good fact that the number of rare animals is growing. After the mass death of the Betpak-dala population in May 2015 due to pasteurellosis, in the Irgiz-Turgay reserve there were about 7 thousand individuals, in 2019 this figure exceeded 72 thousand.

According to the results of the aerial census of the Committee for Forestry and Wildlife of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2019, the total number of saigas in Kazakhstan is 334,400, an increase of 55.5% for the year (2018 – 215,100).  The increase in the population is due to the law banning the catching of rare animals, strict anti-poaching measures and the biological feature of the species itself. According to biologists, saigas have good fertility and a year after birth, a young animal is able to bring offspring. However, the protection of rare animals by employees of the Irgiz-Turgay State Nature Reserve and close cooperation of scientists with specialists of the conservation zone remains a key issue.

According to the researchers, saigas are very sensitive to changes in the environment and above all to changes in vegetation cover, which are caused both by natural causes (e.g. climate change) and sometimes by human activity.

Akylzhan Teleuov is an associate professor at the Department of Ecology, PhD in biological sciences:

– Saiga is a numerous, herdy species, which inhabits the reserve’s territory with high density. And accordingly, the fodder quality of steppe pastures can be significantly transformed from the number of animal populations. As a result, these fodder resources are subject to pasture degradation and may be less (or completely unusable) suitable for permanent habitat of steppe animals.

According to our observations, xerophyte-semi-shrubby wildlife communities, sometimes with significant participation of steppe grasses (granaries, waders, etc.), are attractive for saigas in the Turgai reserve area. In autumn, these saiga pastures were already exposed trampled spaces covered with oppressed plants and densely dotted with saiga litter. In addition, with rather intensive pastures, the steppe vegetation is increasingly transformed into xerophytes with a predominance of xerophyte semi-shrubby communities, with about 70% of pastures dominated by wormwood, and the share of wader pastures did not exceed 20%. Thus, desert and desert xerophytic semi-shrubby herbaceous communities with a predominance of pasture and regression type communities are the most suitable for saigas.

The large-scale project “Aktobe – akbokender mekeni” will be joined by scientists of different directions. In the near future, an expedition of specialists from the Department of Music and Choreography of Zhubanov University will be organized to collect musical works about saigas.

Nurzhamal Mukeyeva, Associate Professor of Music and Choreography Department, Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences:

– Kurmangazy, Saken Seyfullin, Almyrza Nogaybayev, Ykylas Dukenuly, Akhmet Zhubanov and others started to symbolize the most ancient animal of Kazakh steppes in songs and cues. There are also known later works dated 1990 by Abdulhamit Raiymbergenov and Saira Amanova. Our ancestors saw in saigas a symbol of freedom, longevity and simplicity. Their works are filled with pride in their nature and their people. That is why we want to explore musical works in more detail, to make records to transmit this heritage.

Today we have already recorded a work by Ykylas Dukenuly “Zhez kiik” on a mare accompanied by a piano, we plan to record some more folk songs and prepare a sheet music to collect a textbook on saiga works.  Our task through art is to show the younger generation the harmony of music and nature, the inextricable link between man and nature.

In turn, university philologists study the folklore associated with symbolic animals. And in the spring of 2021, after the calving of saigas, the scientists will make a population count. The result of extensive research work will be a popular scientific book about saigas, which will be published in Kazakh, Russian and English languages.