The four areas within Afghanistan which have formerly been announced as Protected Areas are:
- Band-e- Amir National Park (April 2009),
- Wakhan National Park (March 2014)
- Shah Foladi Protected Area (June 2015), and
- Kol-e- Hashmat Khan wetland National Park (June 2017)
Together with the National Environmental Protection Agency of Afghanistan (NEPA) and Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), WCS was instrumental in the establishment of the first two protected areas within Afghanistan (Band-e-Amir and Wakhan).
Band-e-Amir National Park:
From the foundational research that informed the park’s boundaries, to hiring and training park management and establishing park governance systems in surrounding communities, WCS has played an instrumental role in ensuring that the wildlife, delicate travertine dams and cultural significance of Band-e-Amir National Park is protected.
- Many of the First Surveys in 30 years: Conducted the first wildlife and rangeland surveys in Bamyan province in over 30 years. Surveys showed low populations of both Siberian ibex and urial and anecdotal sightings of wolves. However WCS found evidence of diverse bird life and confirmed the presence of the Afghan snowfinch, a species only found in Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Camera trap surveys north of Band-e-Amir National Park confirmed presence of Persian leopard, Himalayan lynx and Pallas cat. WCS also conducted the first basic necessities survey in Band-e-Amir in 2015, establishing a baseline measurement of the poverty and wellbeing of the park’s inhabitants.
- First Female Rangers: WCS recruited, trained, equipped, and deployed 40 government and community rangers – including Afghanistan’s first female rangers – to protect and monitor wildlife and other natural resources across the Bamyan landscape.
- Facilitated Establishment of Democratically-Elected Park Governance: The Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee contains representatives from the community who are elected, as well as local authorities and is chaired by the Bamyan Governor. It acts as a liaison between the government and communities, provides management oversight to the national park, and gives policy guidance on park management to MAIL and NEPA.
- Ecotourism Development: In 2017, a tourism survey revealed that over 189,000 people now visit the park, the vast majority of whom are Afghan citizens. WCS and partners have ensured that local communities benefit from this influx of tourism by implementing a tourism facility development plan, construction of new park entrance facility, an entrance gate, a tourist information center, new ranger complex, and improved campsites, picnic sites, trails and latrines.
- Reduced fuelwood use: WCS distributed more than 500 fuel-efficient stoves to households in Band-e-Amir, provided 365 solar cookers to families in 2016 and built 100 attached solar greenhouses in 2017. Some families reported that the use of fuel-efficient stoves had decreased their wood shrub consumption significantly.
- Education and Training: Conducted conservation awareness outreach throughout Band-e-Amir National Park, to include the establishment of school-based Environmental Education Programs and environmental committees focused on collecting environmental data and conducting clean-up activities in their communities.
Wakhan National Park:
The mountains and valleys of Wakhan National Park are home to the elusive snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep and many other threatened species. WCS research, training and governance initiatives continue to play a significant role in the establishment and effective management of the country’s second national park:
- Many of the First Wildlife Surveys in 30 years: WCS has documented the presence of several important species such as the snow leopard and the Marco Polo sheep, the urial and rediscovered the large-billed reed warbler. These surveys have been fundamental to the establishment and proper management of the national park.
- Park Ranger Training: WCS has also developed a successful ranger program that recruits and trains community rangers to monitor and protect wildlife. At present WCS has 36 community rangers in Wakhan National Park, 4 rangers in the park’s buffer zone, in addition to the 15 rangers appointed by MAIL in Wakhan National Park.
- Improved Protected Area Governance: WCS assisted the Wakhan community in the creation of an overarching, democratically-elected institution, the Wakhan Pamir Association (WPA). The WPA focuses on conservation activities and encouraging eco-tourism, natural resource management, benefit sharing, and liaising with Afghan authorities on behalf of their constituent communities.
- Tourism Development: The area has become more popular with mountaineers, adventure trekkers and wildlife enthusiasts, with between 100 and 250 people now visiting during the summer hiking season. WCS has supported tourism development by establishing a tourism center, providing ecotourism training for Wakhan residents, improving facilities, and working with the local government and WPA to promote Wakhan National Park.