The Wakhan/Pamir unites three magnificent mountain ranges of Central Asia – the Hindu Kush, the Pamirs and the Karakorams, forming the so-called “Pamir Knot”. The high-altitude valleys between these three ranges form the Afghan Pamir, known by locals as “the roof of the world”.
Within this isolated setting, the area hosts globally-threatened and important species: the iconic Marco Polo sheep, urial, Himalayan lynx, Siberian ibex, Himalayan brown bear and the snow leopard. This landscape provides the backdrop for numerous WCS wildlife and rangeland surveys, research, and community mobilization initiatives conducted across the region over the past decade. Key results include:
Second National Park in Afghanistan: In 2014 Afghanistan announced that the entire 10,950 km2 Wakhan District was officially designated as the country’s second protected area, Wakhan 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 Marco Polo sheep and rediscovered the large-billed reed warbler. Wildlife surveys are fundamental to the establishment and proper management of the national park.
- First snow leopards tagged in Afghanistan!: WCS and rangers collared a snow leopard to better understand its range and reduce potential for human-wildlife conflict.
- Discovered New Bird Species: Frequently referred to as the “world’s least known bird”, the large-billed reed warbler is a species that brought delight to conservationists working in Afghanistan and around the world in 2009 when it was discovered to be thriving in north-eastern Afghanistan. As a result of the discovery, the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) added the warbler to the country’s list of Protected Species.
- 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.
- 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 to promote Wakhan National Park.
- Conservation Education: WCS has engaged all 16 schools throughout the Wakhan Valley through its Environmental Education Program. This includes English-language training for teachers, establishing a junior ranger program with students, and organizing activities such as environmentally-themed Parents Day where the school children perform plays and presentations about wildlife conservation.
- Improved Protected Area Governance: The Wakhan Pamir Association (WPA) was established in 2009 with WCS assistance, and WCS continues to help with its growth as a Social Organization, and in attracting government and donor support through ecotourism and conservation initiatives.