In Kazakhstan, the Constitution has superior power over the laws. The international agreements have priority over the laws, Codes follow the Constitution, and Laws are under the Codes. Laws in Kazakhstan contain the general provisions, clarify the ambiguity, provide explanations of different concepts, whereas Codes include the punishments for violations of certain provisions of both the Codes and Laws. There is a Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On the Protection, Reproduction, and Use of Wildlife,” which creates general provisions and regulations for wildlife use. However, the protection of animals from cruelty, injuries, harm, and illegal behavior is only covered by the Administrative Code and the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Thus, the punishments for violations of these provisions derive only from the Administrative Code and the Criminal Code.
For instance, the Administrative Code provides that violations of the requirement of wildlife use and/or hunting rules are punished by warning or fine in the amount of five monthly calculated indexes (MCI) for natural persons, fine in the amount of twenty-five MCI for small entrepreneurship, fine in the amount of fifty MCI for medium entrepreneurship, fine in the amount of one hundred MCI for large entrepreneurship. Hunting, in general, is legal in Kazakhstan under special permissions obtained from authorities.
The Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan contains the article regarding illegal hunting, which says that illegal hunting with the use of explosive substances and other means of mass destruction of animals, and with the use of air, auto, moto transports, including snowmobile equipment, or small boats is punished by a fine in the amount of up to three hundred MCI, or disciplinary works, or public works for up to two hundred and forty hours, or arrest for up to seventy days, with the deprivation of a right to be employed on particular positions or to perform a certain activity for up to one year. These provisions demonstrate that the protection of wildlife is insufficient because a person can be liable under the Criminal Code only while using explosive substances or means of mass destruction during hunting. It also means that persons who do not possess a license for hunting, while killing animals with a gun, will not be liable under the Criminal Code just because they did not use explosive substance or means of mass destruction.
In 1999, the Red Book of the Republic of Kazakhstan was published, which includes currently 257 species and subspecies of rare and endangered plants and animals. Forty mammals are included in that list, and saiga antelopes are among them. The provisions of the Red Book are regulated by the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Specially Protected Territories.” The seizure of rare and endangered species of animals, their parts or derivatives is allowed in exceptional cases by the decision of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan for breeding in special conditions for scientific, reproductive, and commercial purposes with the subsequent release to wild; development of national types of hunting; scientific research; selection. It is prohibited to perform such actions, which can lead to the death of rare and endangered species of animals, and to the reduction of the population or destruction of their habitat, except for the cases mentioned above. In 2010, the acting Minister of the agricultural activity of Kazakhstan promulgated a decree prohibiting usage, hunting, and seizure of saiga antelopes, except for scientific purposes. This decree also established a moratorium on hunting saiga antelopes for ten years. Recently, it was announced that the moratorium was prolonged till 2023.
Kazakhstan has been historically inhabited by nomadic people, and hunting and obtaining animals’ meat for food have always been and are still a part of the culture. Animals in Kazakhstan are at the lowest protection since even such felonies as homicide, rape, theft, larceny probably provide a fair punishment, but these articles are not enforceable. One of the main problems of the lack of protection of animals, especially critically endangered species, such as saiga antelopes, is laid in the culture of people and history, which have a tight connection between each other. There are still some areas in Kazakhstan, where people are living as nomadic groups, considering the national traditions and customs. Thus, while some people in Kazakhstan are still living in poor conditions, animals, including saiga antelopes, will still be hunted for food. The good news is that, at least, there is a law on the protection of wildlife use and the established moratorium on hunting saiga antelopes, except for scientific purposes. The bad news is that the laws and legislative acts are not working, animals are not protected properly by the law, and the cultural background in Kazakhstan does not allow people to reconsider their attitude towards animals.
In 2015, more than 200 000 species of saiga antelope died within three weeks in Central Kazakhstan. The main reason observed was the climatic conditions, such as high humidity level and temperature that led to the outbreak. These animals are vulnerable to mass mortality and affected by extreme climatic changes and environmental stressors. And although at the beginning of 2019 the population of saiga antelopes has more than doubled for the past two years, the management of the population, proper law regulation, elimination of poaching, and corruption are measures that are urgently needed to preserve these species.