Identifying relationships between multi-scale social-ecological factors to explore ungulate health in a Western Kazakhstan rangeland.
Rangelands are multi-use landscapes which are socially and ecologically important in different ways. Among other interactions, shared use of rangelands by wildlife and livestock can lead to disease transmission. Understanding wildlife and livestock health and managing disease transmission in rangelands requires an integration of social and ecological knowledge. Using the example of Western Kazakhstan, home to two types of ungulate hosts, the critically endangered saiga antelopes, Saiga tatarica, and livestock, we conducted a cross-scale analysis of social-economic, ecological and climatic factors that contribute to transmission of diseases We focused on gastrointestinal nematodes (GINs) because they are transmitted between hosts that share pasture and they affect ungulate fitness. We used an interdisciplinary social-ecological methods approach which included conducting faecal egg counts of GINs in saigas and livestock, semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with livestock owners and herders in the region, and triangulation of information through secondary sources. Livestock rearing was done in two ways: (a) village-based livestock and (b) outlying farms. The latter overlapped more with saigas. Village-based livestock had significantly higher worm burdens than those on outlying farms, which had comparable burdens to saigas. Various factors exacerbate GIN prevalence and transmission: Veterinary services are minimal; both saiga and livestock numbers are increasing; and changing climate is increasing farmers' dependence on shared pastures for hay production. It will be crucial for saiga conservationists to engage in multi-pronged conservation interventions, which are evaluated and adapted through the lens of rural livelihoods and the livestock health on which they depend. Our work provides researchers and practitioners with an avenue to better understand complex inter-relationships and plan interventions within rangelands, while viewing host health from an interdisciplinary perspective-ultimately working towards wildlife conservation while safeguarding livelihoods across the world's rangelands.