Reigning over the great peaks of Afghanistan’s mountainous regions are the Mountain Monarchs, Asia’s magnificent wild mountain sheep and goats. A term coined by WCS Senior Scientist Dr. George Schaller in the 1970s, these ‘mountain monarchs’ reside in the barren plateaus and snow-capped summits of the Afghan Pamir and Hindu Kush ranges.
Key species include:
- The Marco Polo sheep, a subspecies of the argali, the largest wild mountain sheep in the world lives in the highest, most barren plateaus.
- The Urial, a medium-sized wild sheep with large, sickle-shaped horns usually found at lower elevations than the argali.
- The Siberian ibex, a large, muscular goat with long, scimitar-shaped horns that lives on the highest, craggy peaks.
- The Markhor, a giant goat with enormous, corkscrew horns and superb climbing ability that allows it to scale cliffs and even oak trees to feed.
Markhor: Although reliable up-to-date population estimates are not available, numbers of markhor in Afghanistan are almost certainly declining. However, WCS occupancy surveys in the eastern forests have provided solid evidence of continued markhor presence, the first records of this species since the 1970s. In addition, in 2011 surveys found markhor in northern Badakhshan province, a population likely connected to the growing population of markhors in southern Tajikistan.
Urial: Despite hunting, livestock disease threats and constricted range, WCS surveys since 2006 have revealed exciting discoveries of urial presence and ecology within the Hazarajat Plateau in central Afghanistan and in the Wakhan region of northeast Afghanistan. At least some urial appear to remain permanently within certain areas of the Hazarajat Plateau and move throughout them with predictable seasonal migrations. Outside of Bamyan Province, relatively healthy populations of urial reside in the Hindu Kush range of the Wakhan National Park, a discovery made by WCS for the first time and which significantly extended their known range in Afghanistan.
Ibex: WCS surveys have revealed both good news and bad news for ibex in Afghanistan. WCS surveys in 2007-2009 in Nuristan provided no reliable evidence of their existence in the central part of the province. However, WCS surveys in Badakhshan have revealed very promising signs of a healthy ibex population that is likely to be contiguous with neighboring populations from Tajikistan, Pakistan and China. During one such survey in 2011 in the Wakhan, WCS teams made sightings of around 2,069 ibex individuals. This is encouraging news for the ibex’s continued survival in Afghanistan, partly due to local communities along the Wakhan becoming more involved in conservation-related programs such as community ranger training programs and environmental education in schools.