When the WCS program was established in 2006, the country had just come out of civil war and a Soviet invasion (1978-1996), followed by Taliban rule (1996-2001), and was 5 years into the international military presence. A newly established government was getting on its feet after decades of turmoil. With more than 80% of the Afghan population dependent on natural resources for their livelihood, understanding the condition of the country’s resources was a priority for WCS and the Government of Afghanistan. These surveys have provided some exciting results and prioritized areas for further protection:
- Identified range, population and threats to Afghanistan's ungulates: Led joint surveys with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) and the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) to survey urial, ibex, and Marco Polo sheep to assign presence/absence and completed a series of comprehensive ungulate surveys throughout the Wakhan district, including data on livestock movements and herding settlements in Big and Little Pamir. These surveys helped establish baseline population figures for the Wakhan’s Marco Polo sheep, ibex, and urial species and provided unprecedented insight into the ecology, behaviour, and threats facing these ‘Mountain Monarchs.’ These surveys confirmed the presence of markhor in two different districts of Badakhshan, the first records of this species since the 1970s. Previously unknown populations of urial were discovered and monitoring plans were initiated.
- Identified new bird species and habitat: Conducted avian surveys in the northern provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar and Kunduz and wetland sites of Dasht-e-Nawar, Kol-e-Hashmat Khan, Imam Sahib, Darqad, and Aye Khanum recording nearly 300 bird species, including the rediscovery and first recorded nesting of the “world’s least-known bird,” the large-billed reed warbler. Also discovered the highest elevation nesting population of greater flamingo in Ghazni Province.
- Confirmed presence of both brown and Asiatic black bear: WCS installed camera traps in the Eastern forest and in the Pamirs in Badakhshan Province. Photographs have been recorded of the Asiatic black bear and of the brown bear confirming the presence of this species in Afghanistan.
- Confirmed presence of Kashmir musk deer and Bukhara deer: WCS conducted ground surveys in Nuristan and Takhar provinces, and confirmed for the first time in decades that the Kashmir musk deer and the Bukhara deer (a subspecies of the red deer), respectively, still survive in Afghanistan despite unregulated hunting, habitat degradation and the absence of rule of law.
- Identified emerging threats to wildlife and habitat: Conducted the only major surveys of wildlife trade and timber trade in and around Kabul.
- Satellite tagged snow leopards in Afghanistan for the very first time: WCS and WCS-trained community ranger teams deployed camera traps and collected evidence of snow leopard presence, such as territorial scrapes and urine sprays, snow leopard kills and scat, and their pug marks in the snow. WCS teams also conducted the first ever satellite telemetry study on snow leopards in Afghanistan. The research done to date supports that the population in Afghanistan is close to 200 individuals, higher than previously speculated.
- Research to inform improved landscape management: WCS conducted the first wildlife and rangeland surveys in Bamyan Province in over 30 years. A particular threat to the fragile rangelands is the cultivation of rain-fed cereals. WCS conducted the first studies on the potential impact of this crop to cause long-term damage to the rangelands. Finally, WCS established a baseline measurement of poverty and well-being of the inhabitants of Band-e-Amir National Park so future benefits can be evaluated.