Despite some major obstacles — deforestation, habitat degradation and decades without “the rule of law” — wildlife is surviving in the province of Nuristan in eastern Afghanistan, according to the first update since 1977. Large mammals, including Asiatic black bears, gray wolves, markhor goats, and leopard cats are all surviving in the conflict-ridden region. Researchers were even able to make the first documented sighting of the common palm civet in Afghanistan.
Using camera-trap surveys, transect surveys, and DNA identification of scat samples, the researchers studied a mountainous, forested area of 1,100 square kilometers between 2006 and 2009.The study, which is published in the latest journal of Oryx, was conducted by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Notes Science Daily:
WCS has had a full-time presence in Afghanistan since 2006 and continues to be the only conservation NGO operating there. WCS works on community conservation, conservation education, institution building, training, capacity building, and wildlife trade issues.
Kara Stevens, lead author of the study, said: “Afghanistan’s environment — like the Afghan people — has shown incredible resilience in the face of decades of instability. However, future support is necessary to ensure that communities can sustainably manage these resources for generations to come.”
Unfortunately, the US foreign assistance budget faces large cuts this year. USAID has helped the WCS to work in over 55 communities in Afghanistan, trained local residents to “monitor and sustainably manage their wildlife and other resources” and created Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan’s first national park, which the government and a committee made up of all 14 communities living around the park co-manage together.
Most of our images of Afghanistan are of a war-torn country where Western troops are stationed. The Oryx study reminds us that there is much more to Afghanistan, and much worth protecting and preserving.
The video below shows the beauties of Band-e Amir Park.
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Photo of an Asiatic black bear by Drew Avery