Afghanistan's First National Park
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Despite three decades of warfare, Afghanistan gazetted its first national park on April 22, 2009—coinciding with Earth Day. Band-e-Amir National Park’s six azure blue lakes contrast crisply with the surrounding red cliffs and white dams of travertine, a natural mineral deposit.
During the 1950s, Afghan and foreign tourists frequented Band-e-Amir, but the outbreak of the Soviet-Afghan War in the late 1970s sparked decades of human suffering and environmental degradation. From 1996 to 2001, the fundamental religious movement the Taliban governed Afghanistan and since 2004 has been engaged in guerilla warfare. In addition to loss of human lives and cultural heritage, the war years have taken a heavy toll on wildlife. Snow leopards vanished from the area due to hunting, but Band-e-Amir still harbors ibexes (wild goats), urials (wild sheep), wolves, foxes, fish, and birds.
The 222-square-mile Band-e-Amir National Park lies on the Hazarajat Plateau in the mountainous Hindu Kush. The region is one of Afghanistan’s poorest. Villagers within the park boundaries live as they have for centuries. The area is critical to biodiversity conservation and economic development. With more than 80 percent of Afghans dependent on the country’s natural resources, long-term economic and political stability relies on sustainably managing those resources.
Prior to gaining national park status, Band-e-Amir suffered from habitat destruction for firewood and farmland, overgrazing and overhunting, fishing practices that included using hand grenades to blast the lake waters, and pollution.
- Implement the Band-e-Amir Management Plan through the Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee (BAPAC), a community-government partnership institution that WCS helped set up
- Establish more protected areas on the Hazarajat Plateau, including the Ajar Valley Wildlife Reserve
- Promote Band-e-Amir as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, strengthening its protection
- Develop a wildlife corridor--sustainably managed by local communities--between Band-e-Amir and the Ajar Valley, enabling wildlife to move about and repopulate areas within the region
- Use the creation of the Band-e-Amir National Park as a model to establish other community managed protected areas, such as in the Big Pamir Reserve region of the Wakhan in northeastern Afghanistan
What WCS is Doing
WCS field scientists conducted wildlife surveys, delineated the park’s boundaries, and helped the government develop Band-e-Amir’s management plan, hire and train its rangers, and design new laws for the national park’s creation. Working with the 13 villages lying within the park, WCS established the Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee (BAPAC), which provides local input into all management decisions.
From the Newsroom
A new video narrated by Edward Norton aims to combat the illegal wildlife trade in Iraq and Afghanistan by informing U.S. military personnel about the consequences of buying wildlife products while stationed overseas.
The New York Times reports on WCS's ongoing work in Afghanistan to protect endangered big cats and other wildlife while creating grass-roots initiatives to inspire local conservation action.
In conflict and post-conflict areas, conservation can play a key role in diplomacy by increasing stability and providing economic opportunities.
TIME reports on WCS's ongoing work in Afghanistan that has helped protect endangered snow leopards and other wildlife in the conflict-plagued eastern province of Nuristan.
In Afghanistan, researchers conducting a genetic study of the Marco Polo sheep discover the species to be an international traveler. WCS recommends trans-boundary monitoring to help ensure its future.