Miracles of Weird: The Saiga Antelope
by Lenny Pierce on February 14, 2014
Meet the closest thing to Watto this side of the universe. Looking like the Toydarian junk lord we’re all familiar with, the Saiga antelope boasts a massive schnozz that allows it to withstand the brutal winters and extensive migrations necessary to its life on the central Asian steppes.
Though you may have assumed the Saiga antelope’s nose exists purely for aesthetic purposes, it actually serves a couple of important functions in the animals survival. Living in the brutal cold of central Asian countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Saiga antelope uses its long nose to heat up the cold air it inhales, allowing it to retain more of its overall body heat.
Saiga antelope sporting the latest in central Asian winter wear – a thick layer of dense fur. (Paul Johnson)
The second role of the large nose has to do with the animal’s migration. Traveling in massive herds across the dry central Asian grasslands means the available breathing air is often clouded with dust. Luckily, the inside of their trunk-like nose is an intricate system of mucus glands and hair to prevent too much dust from entering the animal’s actual respiratory system. In essence, their nose acts as a massive Honeywell air filter hanging off the front of their head.
Another fascinating element of the Saiga antelope is its yearly migration. Usually traveling in groups of 30-40, they will come together in massive herds of over 10,000 for the annual migration to winter grazing areas, a journey which can cover hundreds of miles.
Saiga antelope on the move. (John Hartley)
As is the case with most critically endangered animals, the Saiga antelope has a body part that is valued in Chinese medicine. The animal is routinely killed for its horns, which are thought to have healing properties, keeping the them firmly on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Next time your doc tries to push Saiga antelope parts on you to treat that headache, help these nosey critters out and opt for the aspirin.