ULAN BATOR, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- About 900 saiga antelopes, a critically endangered species, have died in western Mongolia from a contagious disease, the Mongolian government said Wednesday.
The bodies of the dead saiga antelopes were found in the two western provinces of Khovd and Govi-Altai. Experts said the wild animals died from "cattle plague," also known as Rinderpest, according to the country's National Emergency Management Agency.
As a disease affecting cloven hoofed animals, "cattle plague" has led to the mass deaths of goats and sheep in the country since March 2016. Experts believed that saiga antelopes caught the disease from sheep and goat herds sharing the same pastureland with the rare species.
Local authorities have banned the grazing of livestock animals in the areas where the dead saiga antelopes were found and imposed a quarantine to prevent the further spread of the disease.
During an emergency meeting held on Wednesday, the Mongolian government decided to ask for international assistance in combatting the plague.
Saiga antelopes currently live only in Mongolia and Kazakhstan. A 2014-2015 joint study by the Mongolian government and World Wildlife Fund (WWF)found that there were 13,500 to 14,600 saiga antelopes in western Mongolia.
Since March 2016, about 12,000 sheep and goats have died from "cattle plague" in the province of Khovd.