How anyone can help saigas, right now from their computer, without donating any money or major amounts of time?
Working in a saiga antelope consumer country I’ve become increasingly aware of one small truth, most consumers of saiga horn have never even heard of the word ‘saiga’. Now, this is none too surprising given the fact that saiga is the English common name (as well as Latin genus name), and many consumers do not speak English. But what may be surprising, is that many consumers in our study area, and beyond, have no idea what the animal is at all, let alone how the horns are procured, what countries it lives in, and what its conservation or trade status is. (FYI for soon-to-be converted saiga people, it’s a Critically Endangered antelope from Central Asia).
So how did this come to be? Especially given the fact that we live in a world where the globe is so interconnected on the internet, how is it that a consumer has no idea what product they’re buying?
It’s actually quite easy. If you are a consumer, you know of saiga only as ling yang (羚羊), a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) you purchase to treat ailments such as a fever or a cough. So when you search online for information regarding this medicine (what quantity to use, where to buy it, how effective it is), all you will ever see fed back to you is information from other sources referring to the product as ling yang.
Thus exists two parallel worlds. One with saiga, the ungulate under major poaching and disease impact, and one with ling yang, the medicinal product. And these non-overlapping realities just reinforce the gap between those interested in saiga versus ling yang.
How many other species live in such dichotomous perceptions? Where the consumer and conservationist view the same plant or animal in two entirely different ways, with little to no cross-over in information, discussion, or understanding. I can posit quite a few.
My call to saiga people the globe over is, therefore, to start integrating the pinyin and Chinese characters into everything: all saiga conservation and research webpages or posts that mention saiga horns as used in TCM, no matter the language. Our goal is for ling yang users to start seeing webpages, social media posts, and news about saiga, whenever they look up info on the horn as a medicine.
Combatting the entire issue of unsustainable demand will not, in truth, be solved by this little fix, but I would argue that it is a critical, and necessary, step to at least providing an opportunity for consumers to know more about the medicine in their medicine cabinet that we know of as saiga.
Add this text at least once to every webpage, and whenever possible in social media posts, when referring to saiga horn as a TCM product: (ling yang, 羚羊)
As a note, ling yang in Chinese usually means just antelope (or wild antelope), but in the context of TCM, it is almost always referring to saiga antelope horns.
A researcher working with ling yang consumers