In Kazakhstan, a critically endangered species of antelope is marching towards extinction with uncanny regularity — and some people think a spacecraft may be involved.
The first die-off occurred in May 2010, when at least 12,000 of the region's rare saiga antelopes (Saiga tatarica) succumbed to what the Kazach government determined was a lung infection called pasteurellosis. Exactly one year later, a second round of deaths occurred, and pasteurellosis was again fingered as the culprit. Now, for the third year running, dead saiga are turning up like clockwork by the hundreds.
The Kazach government has once again blamed the deaths on pasteurellosis, but SciAm's John R. Platt, who has been covering the mysterious saiga die-offs from the start, says there are some who think the cause of this most recent culling may have come from space — low Earth orbit, to be exact:
...Some ecologists in Kazakhstan and Russia are instead blaming the fatalities on the April landing of a Soyuz capsule from the International Space Station. At least 120 dead saigas were found near the village of Sorsha, where the Soyuz landed last month. Others see a possible link to the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in central Kazakhstan. "It could be from chemical elements left from space rockets that fly over this place," ecologist Musagali Duambekov, leader of the For a Green Planet political movement, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Other potential causes include the overuse of immune-system sapping fertilizers, consumption of pasteurellosis-contaminated vegetation by the afflicted antelopes, or some combination thereof.