New York, NY (June 28, 2006)--In a country known more for conflict than conservation, a joint effort by the government of Afghanistan and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been launched to protect the region's unique wildlife and develop the country's first official system of protected areas.
"This is an important and exciting moment for Afghanistan, which contains some of the most beautiful wild lands in Asia," said Peter Zahler, Assistant Director for WCS' Asia Program and a researcher in the region for over a decade. "Conservation is critical for recovery and stability in a country where so many people directly depend on local natural resources for their survival. Conservation can also inspire local communities and even neighboring countries to work together to protect the region's natural heritage."
Afghanistan's natural landscape is dominated by the Hindu Kush mountain range and the Pamir Knot, a region where the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, Tien Shan, and Himalayan ranges come together to form some of the greatest mountains in the world. These alpine ecosystems support a surprisingly wide range of large mammal species, including the Marco Polo sheep, the world's largest sheep and the namesake of one of the first European travelers along the silk routes to east Asia and who described the giant sheep in his writings in the late 13th Century. Other mammals known to occur in Afghanistan include the ibex, the Persian leopard, gazelles, and the elusive snow leopard.
Specifically, five areas being considered by this project for protected area status include the Pamir-I-Buzurg, Little Pamir, and the Waghjir Valley--all located in the high Pamirs in an area called the Wakhan Corridor--and Bande Amir and Ajar Valley, located in the Central Plateau region.