Add these two factoids to your store of knowledge about Kazakhstan, which, admit it, consists mostly of “It’s on the Risk board?” (it’s not! You’re thinking of Kamchatka) and “Borat is from there.” The central Asian country provides habitat for the endangered saiga antelope, which has a face like a fuzzy alien from Sesame Street. It also sometimes launches rockets into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the best-named launchpad in existence. These items are not as unrelated as you might think.
This past year, more than 1,000 saiga antelope have turned up mysteriously dead. And ecologists say that the Cosmodrome could be to blame. “Chemical elements left from space rockets that fly over this place” could be killing the antelope, one ecologist has said.
If the deaths can’t be pinned on the Cosmodrome’s space rockets, there’s at least one other spacecraft that could have disturbed antelope habitat — the Soyuz spacecapsule that landed in the country in April. Apparently antelope don’t get along very well with the chemicals that space travel requires. That, or the aliens, thinking the saiga were long-lost relatives, accidentally killed them while trying to communicate.
- 3rd Annual Antelope Die-Off in Kazakhstan—Was Spacecraft to Blame?, Scientific American
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