Saiga

Photo by Dasha Urvachova

When you look at a saiga, probably the first thing you notice is its comical, bulbous nose that is slightly trunk-like. In some ways, they resemble something conjured up by Dr. Seuss. And yet the saiga is a real-life antelope living on the Eurasian Steppe, an open grassland that stretches practically uninterrupted from Romania to central Asia into Mongolia and China.

It will come as no surprise that the fun nose of the saiga is an adaptation against the cold, dusty plains. The nasal cavity of saiga is similar to a whale’s, yet in saiga habitat the nose warms and moistens inhaled dry, frigid winter air. In warmer, drier months, their noses help to filter out dust. That nose may also play a role in choosing a mate. A loud nasal roar by males is thought to be a way for them to show off their size and condition. Those noses are also apparently very good at smelling with.

Even full grown, these animals are about the size of a German shepherd. Like on other grasslands around the world, the saiga of the Eurasian Steppe also migrate in herds numbering into the thousands. And, fun fact, on a saiga’s second day of life they are already able to run faster than a human!