Maybe you've never heard of a saiga.
No shame there — 5 years ago, I'd never heard of a saiga antelope either. Yet here I am, facing an 8:00am Black Friday starting line at the Fat Ox 48-hour footrace — for saigas. Why? Because 3 years ago, I learned saigas can run up to 72 miles (116 km) per day during their migration — and now we're bonding!
So the question stewing inside my brain has been: Can this ancient, funny-looking human keep up with the migrating herd of ancient, funny-looking antelopes?
With the saigas amassing in thousand-head herds to rumble south to their wintering pastures, now is the perfect time to find out. They will cover 48-72 miles (77-116 km) per day for a total distance of maybe 900 miles (1448 km).
My plan, then — if you can call it that — is to go 72 miles (their longest daily distance), sleep ~6 hours, and then run another 48 miles (their shortest distance) before my time expires. So 120 miles (193 km) — or more — across the 2 days and maybe I'll have earned some saiga street-cred along the steppe.
WHAT I'M ASKING OF YOU:
Give me 7 more minutes of your time — watch the video in the slideshow above. It's an excellent 101 on the critically endangered saiga antelope, unfolding an Ice Age survival story that includes: woolly mammoths, population bottlenecks, the former Soviet Union, poached rhinoceros horns, and multiple mass mortality events.
Yes, mass mortality events.
211,000 saigas from the Betpak-dala population of Kazakhstan mysteriously died from an epizootic illness (pasteurellosis) within 10 days in 2015. Another 6000 saigas from the Mongolian subspecies died from "goat plague" (PPR) in 2017.
The current global population estimate for saiga antelopes is 165,000.
Thank you for your time and interest. If you found this fun, informative, eye-opening, or just plain weird — please smash the donate button for the Saiga Alliance and share this campaign with a friend or ten.
About Saiga Conservation Alliance • www.saiga-conservation.org •
The Saiga Conservation Alliance is a network of researchers and conservationists who have worked together since 2006 to study and protect the critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). While the saiga is their target species, they work to conserve the steppe ecosystem as a whole, taking into account human needs as well as other species of fauna and flora.
About Brian Khepri • www.5milelion.com •
A type 2 diabetes diagnosis in 2009 led Brian Khepri to dump 110 lbs. on his way to the starting line of the 2010 Run For The Cheetah 5K race, benefiting cheetahs in Namibia. He continues to run for wildlife, chasing higher mileage for lions in Kenya, painted dogs in Zimbabwe, and now saiga antelopes in Central Asia. Every buckle he's earned in an ultramarathon adorns the belt of a warrior in Samburu, Kenya.
About Fat Ox • www.aravaiparunning.com/fat-ox/ •
What started as a college thesis on fat oxidation and ultra running has become a fixed-time family festival celebrating the season! Runners (or relay teams) have 12, 24, or 48 hours to cover as much distance as possible. Each participent is free to run, walk, stop, eat, and sleep whenever they wish, but the clock is always running! This year’s event will run from November 29, 2019 to December 1, 2019, at Nardini Manor in Buckeye, Arizona.
About Wildlife Conservation Network • www.wildnet.org •
WCN provides independent wildlife conservationists with the tools and funding that they need to succeed. Saiga Conservation Alliance is one of their 17 conservation partners, a network dedicated to protecting endangered wildlife in 37 countries around the globe. They hold a perfect, 4-star designation by Charity Navigator, and serve as the 501(c)(3) for SCA within the United States of America.