In 2014 the SCA recognised the dedication of the rangers of the Stepnoi Reserve – Kalmykia, Russia in our Award for Excellence in Saiga Protection.
The Stepnoi State Nature Reserve covers an area of 119 thousand. Ha, established in 2000 it is one of the few places where a population of about 3,500 saigas can be seen almost all year round. The small, yet dedicated group of rangers feel very protective towards their saigas and endure some extreme conditions to keep them safe.
As the area they cover is so vast there is little point in fixed accommodation, so rangers live out of old soviet mini vans, spending a couple of weeks at a time living a lonely existence on the steppe, and with temperatures as low as -40° in the winter and +40° in the summer the going is tough!
During the 2014 calving period the rangers felt that there was a need for constant supervision of their saiga herds, and so set up a saiga nursery, complete with no entry signs and 24 hour surveillance! During other times of the year the rangers ensure that saigas, other steppe inhabitants and the steppe itself are well managed; they routinely set up fire prevention measures, fight wildfires, dig and maintain watering holes and build artificial nests for endangered birds.
They have stopped countless incidents of poaching (even being shot at in the process) and work with international NGOs, local government, environment agencies and local law enforcement teams to successfully prosecute wildlife crimes.
They work with the SCA to monitor saigas in order to learn more about this species, and help carry out other essential scientific research. When they are not doing all of this they are busy carrying out community awareness and education campaigns amongst farmers and local people living close to the perimeter of the reserve, or even hosting film companies on the reserve, helping them to make documentaries about saigas and the steppe.