A dry, unbearable heat has arrived on the steppe, making the ground hard and turning green grass a lifeless yellow. What’s more, fire season has started.

Fires — both natural ones caused by the lightning of dry thunderstorms, and human-induced ones — can burn huge territories of the steppe, and all of its inhabitants.

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Helping the Saiga Recover From the Brink of Extinction

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The saiga that have recently been born under the watch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) -supported anti-poaching brigades are under yet another threat.

Although they are getting strong and together with their mothers and older siblings are starting to move away from the places where they saw daylight for the first time, they now run the risk of getting trapped in a raging and deadly burn.

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Before the fire season started, the International Fund for Animal Welfare provided support for purchasing special equipment (a water barrel, grass-mower for clearing up roadsides, an engine, etc.).

In order to minimize damage of possible fires, the staff of the Wildlife Reserve has been cleaning up roads and ploughing the most fire prone areas in advance. This work is made possible due to the support of the Service for Environmental Control of the Astrakhan Oblast and that of the farmers with whom within the last years the staff of the Sanctuary has established friendly relationships.

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Fire Threatens New Life

On June 15, sanctuary inspectors patrolling the territory communicated information about a strong fire, wreaking havoc in the “Chyornye Zemli” Nature Reserve, which borders the “Stepnoy” Wildlife Sanctuary, where IFAW is working.

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Sanctuary director V.G. Kalmykov alerted all off-duty staff, who moved as fast as possible to help the neighbors and colleagues from the “Chyornye Zemli” Nature Reserve. Volunteering farmers also got involved.

In less than an hour after the alert was initiated the Sanctuary’s staff together with the farmers and staff of the “Chyornye Zemli” Nature Reserve started to fight the fire. The wall of fire — up to 3 meters high and 20 km long — destroyed everything along its way with the help of a strong wind.

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A tractor of one of the farmers from the Limansky District is fighting a wall of fire.

Staff members of the Wildlife Reserve were able to rescue a vehicle, but according to the assessment of Nature Reserve Director B.I. Ubushaev, 6,000 hectares of the territory were destroyed by the fire. Staff of the Wildlife Sanctuary retreated from the fire having lost one tractor and a plough.

The good news is that the fire has not reached the Stepnoy Sanctuary.

Although it is impossible to assess the comprehensive effects to all the inhabitants of the steppes who just had their young – cranes, hares, foxes and other animals – we are hopeful that we have prevented the spreading of the fire, saving huge swaths of territory and newborn of a great number of species including saiga.

To learn more about IFAW’s efforts to protect these species, check out their website, here