Episode 181 – Saiga Antelope: The Nose Knows

“…and today we’re talking about the tibetan fox of antelopes. By that I mean it looks like a child’s drawing of the antelope that isn’t quite right. But more on that later.”

On the steppes of the stans in Central Asia, a goofy-looking antelope grazes around the countryside, using its odd snout to sniff the ground as it walks. But having such a problematic proboscis can be more trouble than it’s worth, as a silent killer stalks these nefarious noses. But having a slinky snout is just how the Saiga antelope stays cool here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • The saiga antelope has a stocky deer-like body with thin legs. It doesn’t look as thin and lithe as an impala or springbok. 
  • Females are hornless and males have horns that go straight up with a twist. 
  • They have an almost uniform tan color except for a dark to light gradient for countershading. The color changes to be reddish in the summer and grey-brown in the winter. 
  • It has a large head with a nose that makes it look like it drinks at the Mos Eisley Cantina. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a New Measure up intro this week. 

  1. Common Eland
  2. Texas Longhorn
  3. Whitetail Buck
  4. Siberian Musk Deer

Height at the shoulder

  • 61–81 cm (24–32 in)
  • How many saiga antelopes go into the flagpole in National Flag Square in Baku, Azerbaijan?
  • Hint: The pole once held the record for the longest flag pole but it was surpassed by poles in Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia. 
  • 199.3 antelopes. The flagpole was 162 meters (531.4 feet).


  • 26–69 kg (57–152 lb)
  • How many saiga antelopes go into the combined weight of horses in the largest horse rider parade in the world, assuming they were all the average weight of mongol horses?
  • Hint: A mongol horse is a small but stocky breed of horses that is said to be unchanged since the time of Genghis Khan. The parade took place in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and the oldest rider was 90 and the youngest was under three years old.
  • 40,254 antelopes. The horses are around 550 lbs on average and there were 11,125 of them making them weigh 6,118,750 pounds together. 

Fast Facts

Saiga Antelope live on the Eurasian Steppe, but they used to have a larger range spanning all the way across the bering strait to Alaska and Canada. 

They eat grass and shrubs. Their diet is so versatile that they can eat some plants that are poisonous to other animals. 

Males fight for mates and victorious bucks can control groups of up to 50 females. The females exclusively mate with the male that controls their group. They often give birth to two fawns at a time. 

Like other bovids, antelope newborns are able to walk and run shortly after they’re born. This gives them an edge against the Eurasian predators that would love to make a meal out of them, including foxes, wolves, dogs, and eagles.

The antelopes are able to live in plains that can reach very high and very low temperatures. And they have anatomical protections against the elements.

Major Fact: The Nose Knows

  • Because they live under the blazing suns of the spicy stans (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan), overheating is a serious issue for mammals.
  • While they’re still not completely sure what the odd-looking noses do, it seems like their primary purpose is to help cool the saiga’s face since there are lots of blood vessels close to the skin and cools the blood as air flows over it.
  • Its shape and downward direction help to filter out dust that could be kicked up by the herd.
  • However, it turns out this nose has a serious downside
  • The saiga has recently plummeted in numbers over the last few years. 
    • While many point to hunting since saiga horn is used in superstitious remedies
    • In fact, from 1955 to 1985, hunters killed over 5 million of them 
    • But the fatal blow was struck back in the spring 2015 when a massive epidemic wiped out a full half of their population
    • After a long period of gob-smackedness, researchers found a special bacteria that grew in the blood vessels of the saiga’s noses called pasteurella multocida
    • This causes blood poisoning, which has a herd mortality rate of 100%
    • They used to live as far as the UK and even in Canada, but now they just live in Russia and the Stans.

Ending: So sharpen your horns and fluff your snout cause this sad antelope’s got reason to pout here in LDT