An anonymous reader writes: The Saiga antelope has been hunted to near extinction. They've been put on the endangered species list, and they play a vital role in the ecosystems around Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, where their grazing helps get rid of fallen plant matter, which is prevented from decomposing by the cold temperatures. But earlier this year, a huge die-off hit the Saiga antelope herd in Kazakhstan, felling over 120,000 of them in a few short weeks. Scientists say an entire group of 60,000 died within a four-day span. The cause of this die-off is still a mystery. The researchers suspect some sort of bacteria, and early on pointed to Pasteurella strains. But those bacteria don't usually cause this much damage unless something else has weakened the antelope. "There is nothing so special about it. The question is why it developed so rapidly and spread to all the animals," one researcher said. They're looking into environmental factors, but nothing else seems too far out of the ordinary.
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