Chapter 1: The Saiga Antelope

In the frozen ground of northern Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon Territory, one has also found the remains of the saiga antelope. They have recovered them up there together with the bones of the woolly mammoth, the steppe bison and the wild horse. Today, even the reindeer is hardly able to survive up there. Why has the saiga antelope been able to live then so far above the Arctic Circle? In what kind of a climate has it lived up there? What have scientists found out about this?

 

Eurasias saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), male and female. After: V. G. Heptner et al. (1966:573) Fig. 158. The saiga antelope is adapted to the dry steppe and desert-steppe, to a very thin snow-cover, not to the arctic tundra. Map: Last-glacial range of saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) in Eurasia, according to R.-D. Kahlke (1994) Fig. 22. The saiga antelope has lived in Northeast Siberia, Alaska and Northwest Canada up to the shores of the Arctic Sea, in a mild, temperate dry-steppe climate. This animal is not able to live on periglacial tundra or polar desert.

C. R. Harington, National Museums of Canada, in Ottawa, says in his article "Pleistocene Saiga Antelopes in North America and their Paleoenvironmental Implications": "Six fossils from central Alaska, one from northern Alaska and one from east of the Mackenzie Delta in Canada are referred to the Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). This species seems to have dispersed from Eurasia as far westward as England, and as far eastward as northwestern Canada, during the late Pleistocene. The species became extinct in western Europe and North America toward the close of the last (Wrm/Wisconsin) Glaciation. But it survives in central Eurasia.

"Living saigas are particularly adapted to dry steppe-grasslands. Hence it is likely that they crossed broad steppe-like plains of the northern Bering Isthmus during glacial phases of the late Pleistocene. This northern steppe, to which they had adapted, seems to have extended once eastward up to the Yukon River valley in central Alaska, and along the Arctic Coastal Plain to Baillie Islands in Canada. Saiga antelope remains appear to be useful paleoenvironmental indicators. They suggest the presence of steppe-like vegetation, generally low, flattish terrain, rather arid climatic conditions, and above all, shallow snow cover." (1981:193).

"When alarmed, they can reach speeds up to75 kph, making it difficult for predators to catch them. ... Because males eat little during the rut, they face winter in poor condition. Only the strongest survive. Saigas are almost constantly on the move. Herds often cover distances of 80-120 or more km per day. Females with month-old young have been found several hundred kilometers from the place where the young were born and tagged. Because saigas lack permanent attachment to a definite territory, they can roam extensively. And they can use, each season, pastures, which are most suitable to their needs. This flexibility evidently allowed saigas to spread rapidly to western Europe and North America, when suitable habitat became available there during the late Pleistocene. ... Presently, saigas are confined to dry steppes and semi-deserts. Because of their complex plant associations, these zones are apparently best suited for the species.

"The climate, governing the regions, where the saiga is living now, is extremely continental. The summer is warm. The mean July temperature reaches 22-28C. Winters are severe (the mean January temperature is from 6 to 16C), particularly in the central and northern parts of their range. There the temperatures may drop to 45C." - Harington, C. R. (1981:194, 195).

"A parallel situation to that on Baillie Islands exists on Bolshoi Lyakhov Island, off the northern coast of Siberia. Like Baillie Islands, Bolshoi Lyakhov Island was once connected to the mainland. There also, Saiga tatarica has been reported with remains of the Pleistocene mammals from beaches and spits (small point of land running into water). Although the Bolshoi Lyakhov fauna was not found in situ, it can be assumed to have lived in the area sometime between the latter half of the Riss (= Illinoian) Glaciation, and the end of the Wrm (= Wisconsin) Glaciation. Obviously, saigas crossed the Bering Isthmus from northeastern Siberia to Alaska and Canada. So there is good reason to believe that they would have belonged to the same species. Further, comparisons show no important differences between Beringian saiga fossils and the living species. ... The Beringian saiga remains are best referred to S. tatarica. Generally speaking, I can see no qualitative differences between Pleistocene and Recent specimens that can be used to separate them at the species level. 

"Extinct North American saigas are considered to belong to the living species. Thus it is reasonable to suppose that they occupied a steppe-like habitat . One that was perhaps influenced strongly by northern plant species, in contrast to the flora of the present steppe and semi-desert habitat of saigas in the southern USSR. ... Some palynological studies show high percentages of Artemisia and grass. One often considers them as evidence of steppe-like conditions. They were characteristic of the pollen rain during the late Wrm/Wisconsin in Beringia." - Harington, C. R. (1981:213, 218).

R.-D. Kahlke (1994:47) writes about Saiga tatarica borealis/S. tatarica ssp.: "The home range of the Saiga was the largest during the Last Glacial. In the Ural it has lived at least for some time up to 62N. In several places, Late-glacial (Wisconsin) remains of the Saiga one has found in central Alaska and at the arctic coast area of northwestern North America. Thus, its distribution in N.E.-Siberia is proved up to the Bering Strait.

"The recent S. tatarica tatarica inhabits the steppes and semi-arid zones of Kalmykia and Kazakhstan. The smaller Mongolian subspecies (S. tatarica mongolia BANNIKOV, 1946) is living isolated in the basin of the Great West-Lakes of Outer Mongolia. ... The oldest saiga-population has come from the northeast Siberian Olyor-faunal complex. This oldest saiga antelope was already highly adapted to cold and dry ranges in periglacial areas. The ecological characteristics of the Pleistocene forms do correspond principally to those of S. tatarica tatarica, of today. The herds are always occupying flat or flat-wavy steppe-like or semi-arid biotopes. Steep mountain ranges (Alps, Pyrenees) it cannot cross. The flat hoof of the saiga antelope requires also for the fossil forms a solid ground. Saigas will only tolerate snow-covers up to a depth of 0.10 m. Thicker layers, and mainly crusted snow is dangerous for the animals." - Kahlke, R.-D. (1994:82).

 

Saiga antelope, male (with horns) and female. Its small hooves are adapted to the hard, level surface of the dry steppe and half-desert. It is not able to live in an arctic climate. From: Grzimeks Enzyklopdie (1987:486) Volume 5.

Living Saiga Antelope

Where is the saiga antelope living now, how far north? How many saigas are there now? On what kind of a plant-cover is it grazing? In what kind of a climate is the saiga living now at the northern limit of its range?

Professor V. G. Heptner and co-workers report: "The total population of the saiga antelope in the USSR is covering an area of about 2,500,000 km. In the year 1958 it has been about 2,000,000. Thus, the mean density was about 8/km. In the Asiatic part of its range, about 1,500,000 saiga antelopes were living in an area of 2,000,000 km. And on the right bank of the Volga, about 500,000 saigas are living on an area of 150,000 km. Thus, the population density was here four times as large as in Asia." (1966:579).

"Everywhere, the saiga antelope is living on flat ground, avoiding not only mountains, but also any hilly ground. As a rule, it does not even occur on the inland-dunes. Only in winter, during snowstorms, it is found on the uneven sand-areas or on the hilly steppe, where it protects itself from the wind. The height above sea level is for Saiga tatarica not important. In the Caspian Plains it is living at the sea. In Kazakhstan it is found at the height of 200-600 m. And in Mongolia it is at home in the lake-depressions, lying 900-1600 m above sea level.

"Its present range is in the area of the dry steppes and half-deserts. This zone seems to be optimal for the kind that, due to the complex state of its plant-associations. Here, the saiga antelope lives in territories that are not very large. There it finds during the whole year its food. And the seasonal migrations during the year do not, as a rule, go beyond this area. During the past centuries, the saiga antelope did not move each year into the mesophile steppe (= growing at normal moisture). And when it did, only during the driest years. The saiga antelope is at home in the dry steppe and half-desert. The reserves of plant-mass in the biotope of the saiga antelope are not very large, only 2-5-7 tons per hectare." - Heptner, V. G. (1966:581).

"During the snow-storms and flurry, the saiga antelope is moving into the uneven sands and into the reed-thickets. And it is moving then into other tall plants at the banks of the rivers, and at the shores of the lakes, to protect itself from the strong and cold winds. The saiga antelopes are using their range during the different seasons of the year quite differently. In spring, when there is much juicy food, they are only biting off the upper part of the plant, often only the tops. The animals are taking then the plants, standing 1-4 m apart. And they are moving so quickly over their pasture. One can see then that they are very choosy. In summer, ... the animals are usually using the depressions where the juiciest plants are growing. They are biting them off very close to the ground.

"In spring, the saiga antelopes are satisfied with the juicy plants, containing moisture. And to the drinking places they do not come then as a rule, even when there are many temporary bodies of water in the steppe. ... The larger the herd is, and the poorer the pasture, the more they will move around each day. During their migrations, the herds are moving 80-120 and more km within 24 hours. The animals are not moving then only during the day, but also at night. They are grazing then usually only in the morning. A wandering herd is moving as a long, narrow band. When feeding, the animals are spreading apart in a broad front." - Heptner, V. G. (1966:581-586).

Male saiga antelope. From: Grzimeks Enzyklopdie (1988:487) Volume 5.

"The sole-pressure of the hooves of the males is 700-833 g, or an average 741 g. That of the females is 600-700 g, or an average 662 g/cm. The critical depth of the snow-cover is 25-30 cm. On the ice, the saiga antelope is slipping. Nor is it able to run very fast on ice. It is swimming well. And it crosses during its migrations streams like the Volga. The saiga is able to see very well. It is able to detect a danger from a distance of more than 1000 m. Well developed is also its sense of smell, But its sense of hearing is weak.

"The range of the saiga lies in the half-deserts. There the snow is usually not deeper than 20-25 cm, but often not more than 10 cm. So that the animals are able to find their food easily. In the half-deserts the snow-cover is irregular (the snow is blown together in depressions, and is quickly melting on the wet salty ground). Thus, they are able to use their pasture during the whole year. During some of the winters, though, large snowfalls, with strong winds and quickly falling temperatures, will cause food to be scarce. Slippery ice and deep crusted snow will also hinder them, when searching for food. And the saigas will wander then away from such areas. The animals have not moved regularly northward into the feather-grass steppe, but only during dry years." (1966:587, 591).

"In the past, that is, till the end of the 19th century, Saiga tatarica was suffering much from a certain bot-fly (Pallasiomyia antilopum). Its larvae used to live in large numbers as parasites beneath its skin, harassing and weakening the animals very much (PORCINSKI 1902). At the end of the 20ies of this century, only a few saiga antelopes were left. The bot fly, parasiting on them, then seems to have died out. Because since the 1930ies, till now, one has not found it at all anymore on the saiga antelopes. The bot-fly has survived now only on the isolated population of the Mongolian subspecies (GRUNIN 1957)." - Heptner, V. G. et al. (1966:597).

 

Present Saiga Range: Northern Limit

In which climate is the saiga living now at the northern limit of its range? This will show us, how warm it must have been in the Far North, up to 70-74N, when the saiga was living there.

East Europe, 52N, 53E. 19-21C July temperature. 4-6C mean ann. air temp. No permafrost. 150 days above 10C. 120-140 days with snow cover. 35 kcal cm net radiation at earths surface per year. 600-700 mm potential evapotranspiration (P.E.), 2500 temperature sum with days above 10C.

West Siberia, 54N, 65-84N. 19C July temp. 3C mean ann. air temp. No permafrost. 120 days above 10C. 160 days with snow cover. 32 kcal cm net radiation at earths surface per year. 600 mm P.E. and 2000 10C.ts.

Result

When the saiga was living at the shores of the Arctic Sea, the climate up there has not been arctic at all. The northern limit of the saigas range has lain then about 2300 km further north than now. The climate up there has been then temperate, mild, without an arctic winter, without permafrost, without ice and snow. The northern limit of the saigas present range does show us, how warm it had to be then at least above the Arctic Circle.

19-21C mean July air temperature. 3C mean annual air temperature. 120 day above 10C. 32-35 kcal cm net radiation at earths surface per year. 600 mm potential evapotranspiration per year and 2000 temperature sum with days above 10C. Such a climate we do find now in southeastern Europe near 52N and in western Siberia at 54N. That is some 2300 km further south. This is only the climate at the northernmost part of its home range. Its normal range further south is still warmer.

Female saiga antelope with two small calves. One of them is drinking. From: Grzimeks Enzyklopdie (1988:490) Volume 5.

 

Saiga Antelope and Northern Treeline

The saiga antelope has lived in NE Siberia a long time. During the height of the Last Glaciation, when sea level was lower and when the Bering Strait was dry land, the saiga antelope is supposed to have wandered from NE Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to Alaska and NW Canada.

The remains of the saiga antelope they have also recovered in NW Siberia. In E Siberia, they have found its bones in the delta of the Lena River, and on the coastal lowland, west of the Lena Delta, near 73N, 120-130E. The remains of the saiga they have also discovered on Great Lyakhov Island (New Siberian Islands), near 73N, 142E. One has also found them in central Alaska (near Fairbanks), and on Alaskas North Slope, west of Point Barrow, near 71N, 162W. And in northwestern Canada, the remains of the saiga antelope one has discovered in the northern Yukon Territory. And still further east, one has found them on Cape Bathurst, at the arctic coast, in the Northwest Territories, east of the Mackenzie Delta, near 71N, 129W. The saiga antelope is supposed to have lived there at the height of the Last Glaciation. In what kind of a climate would this animal have had to live then up there?

During the height of the Last Glaciation, the 10C July isotherm (and northern treeline) are supposed to have lain much further south. In E Siberia the 10C July isotherm is supposed to have lain then near 53N. The average latitudinal lapse rate of the mean July air temperature in the lowlands of North America and West Siberia (north of 60N) is about 121.5 km/1C. How warm (or how cold) would it have been then in the Far North, where the saiga was living?

Lena Delta and Coastal Lowland, 73N, 120-130E. If the 10C July isotherm (and northern treeline) have lain in E Siberia at 53N, the Lena Delta and coastal lowland, west of the Lena Delta, would have lain then some 2170 km north of the northern treeline.

2170 km : 121.5 km/1C = 17.86C. 10C minus 17.86C= -7.86C mean July air temperature at 73N.

Great Lyakhov Island, 73N, 142E. The Great Lyakhov Island would have had then also a mean July air temperature of 7.86C.

Alaskas North Slope, 71N, 162W. When the woolly mammoth was grazing in the Far North, the saiga antelope was also living on Alaskas North Slope, near 71N, 162W, west of Point Barrow. The saiga was wandering still further east. They have found it in the northern Yukon Territory, and on the narrow continental shelf, north of Canadas present arctic coast. It was grazing on Cape Bathurst, at 71N, 129W.

The 10C July isotherm (and northern treeline) during the height of the Last Glaciation are supposed to have lain then much further south. In western North America, the 10C July isotherm (and northern treeline) are supposed to have lain then south of the continental ice sheet, near 46N. That is about 2850 km south in latitude from Cape Bathurst. What would have been then the mean July temperature on Alaskas North Slope and at Cape Bathurst?

2850 km : 121.5 km/1C = 23.4C. 10C minus 23.4C = -13.4C.

This means: During the peak of the Last Glaciation, the saiga antelope at the shores of the Arctic Sea would have had to live then at a mean July air temperature of 13.4C. The northern treeline (and 10C July isotherm) were lying then south of the North American ice sheet, near 46N. That is 2850 km further south in latitude.

But this is only true, when using the latitudinal lapse rate of 121.5 km/1C on dry land, (free of ice). It is reasonable to assume that the North American ice sheet has been just as cold, as the Antarctic ice sheet is now. When measuring this distance across the continental ice sheet, lying then between 46N and 71N, it would have been then even colder up there in July, than 13.4C. In such a climate, the saiga and the woolly mammoth are supposed to have lived then in the Far North!

The northern limit of the saigas range has now a mean July temperature of +19-21C. This animal is adapted to zonal dry steppe. And zonal dry steppe, which is able to feed the saiga and the mammoth, cannot grow in an arctic climate. This alone would be enough already, to overthrow the present ice age theory once for all times. It is not science, only science fiction.

Female saiga antelope resting. From: Grzimeks Enzyklopdie (1988:490) Volume 5.

 

Climate near Continental Ice Sheet

During the height of the Last Glaciation, NW Eurasia and most of North America were covered by ice sheets. On these continental ice sheets it was then just as cold, as it is now on the Antarctic ice sheet. At the rim of the Antarctic ice sheet (on Graham Land) the mean air temperature of the warmest month (down there in January), is about 10C (or colder). On the bare ground of Graham Land (not covered with ice), the mean lapse rate (from the rim of the ice sheet outward), is about 132 km/1C January air temperature (of the warmest month).

Cape Bathurst, N.W.T.: The remains of the saiga antelope they have also recovered on Cape Bathurst, near 71N, 129W, in Canadas Northwest Territories, at the arctic coast, east of the Mackenzie Delta. The saiga and woolly mammoth are supposed to have lived up there also during the height of the Last Glaciation. During the peak of the Last Glaciation, the northwestern rim of North Americas ice sheet has lain then about 150 km further south. At the rim of this ice sheet, the mean July temperature was about 10C (or colder) like now in the Antarctic.

150 km : 132 km/1C = 1.1C. 10C plus 1.1C = -8.9C mean July temperature.

This means: During the peak of the Last Glaciation, the saiga and woolly mammoth on Cape Bathurst, at the present Arctic Coast, would have had to live then north of the North American ice sheet. The warmest month of the year up there would have had then an air temperature of only 8.9C.

North Slope, Alaska. The remains of the saiga they have also found on Alaskas North Slope, near 71N, 162W, southwest of Point Barrow. The northwestern rim of North Americas ice sheet has been then near 69N, 138W. That is some 850 km further east.

850 km : 132 km/1C = 6.44C. 10C plus 6.44C = -3.56C.

This means: During the height of the Last Glaciation, Alaskas North Slope near 71N would have had then a mean July air temperature of only 3.56C. In such a climate, no saiga antelope is able to live. The saiga is also supposed to have lived in the northern Yukon during the height of the Last Glaciation, according to radiocarbon dating. That is still closer to the North American ice sheet. The warmest month of the year in the northern Yukon must have been then still colder than 3.56C.

The northern limit of the saigas range has now a mean July temperature of 19-21C. There is no permafrost, no arctic climate. And there are no ice wedges. This means: During the Last Glaciation, neither the saiga antelope nor the woolly mammoth were able to live in the Far North. Also up there, the climate had to be then mild, temperate. This also clearly proves to me: The asserted adaptation of the woolly mammoth to arctic cold is not science, only science fiction. 

80N Climate at 70N

The American glaciologists G. H. Denton and T. J. Hughes (1981:443) do conclude: The Last Ice Age was only able to begin in the Northern Hemisphere, when it became just as cold at 70N, as it is now at 80N. The mean annual surface temperature of the sea ice at 80N was supposed to have been wide-spread further south at 70N. In this severe arctic climate, the ice sheets and ice domes of North America and northern Eurasia are supposed to have arisen. - If so, we must ask: Why, then, are these continental ice sheets not growing now anymore on the Arctic Ocean at 80N?

During the peak of the Last Glaciation, the saiga antelope is supposed to have lived in northern Siberia, northern Alaska and northwestern Canada, at the present arctic coast. And it was found then still further north, on the (now submerged) continental shelf. In what kind of a climate would this animal have had to live then at the arctic coast (near 71-73N), if it had been then just as cold, as it is now at 80N?

The present climate at or near 80N on dry land is: 3.88C mean July air temperature. 103.5 mm annual precipitation. 1.5 kcal cm mean net radiation at earth surface per year. 25.4 mm potential evapotranspiration. 0 meter height of snowline (at sea level) . 17C mean annual air temperature (just like annual surface temperature of sea ice). Thick permafrost and growing ice wedges. This is the average from 6 stations.

No saiga antelope would be able to live in such a cold climate. The saiga antelope (of today and of the time of the woolly mammoth) was adapted to dry steppe and steppe-desert, not to arctic tundra. There has been then no arctic tundra and forest-tundra in the Far North. They arose later, in the Holocene. The northern limit of the saigas range has now this climate: 19-21C mean July temperature. 32-35- kcal cm mean net radiation at earths surface per year, and 600 mm potential evapotranspiration per year. In an arctic climate this is not possible. Here I can only say to the devout believers in todays ice age theory: The truth is not your strength!

A Mongolian saiga antelope male. From: George B. Schaller, Wildlife of the Tibetan Steppe (1998:254) Fig. 13.5.