Wakhan District declared Afghanistan’s second National Park

Recently created by the Government of Afghanistan, the Wakhan National Park covers an immense area (25 percent larger than Yellowstone National Park) filled with snow-capped mountains and alpine grasslands. Photo: WCS Afghanistan
Recently created by the Government of Afghanistan, the Wakhan National Park covers an immense area (25 percent larger than Yellowstone National Park) filled with snow-capped mountains and alpine grasslands. Photo: WCS Afghanistan

Courtesy: Newswise

The Wildlife Conservation Society applauds the Afghanistan Government’s recent declaration establishing the entire Wakhan District, one of the most remote areas of Afghanistan, as the nation’s second national park.

The Wakhan National Park, with its beautiful alpine grasslands and craggy mountains, will provide protection for Afghanistan’s rare and vulnerable wildlife such as the snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep, lynx, Himalayan ibex and urial. This new protected area will be co-managed by the Afghanistan Government and local communities, providing livelihoods related to the park and improved services to one of the poorest and most isolated regions on earth.

The new park, just over 1 million hectares or 4,200 square miles, is in Afghanistan’s far northeast and borders Tajikistan, Pakistan and China; its narrow valley landscape is sandwiched between the Pamir and Hindu Kush Mountains. This huge new protected area is about 25 percent bigger than Yellowstone National Park.

This historic declaration follows a 2009 decision establishing Band-e-Amir National Park as Afghanistan’s first official protected area.

The Director-General of Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) Prince Mostapha Zaher, the grandson of the country’s last King Zaher Shah, together with Asif Rahimi, the Minister for Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) formally made the historic Wakhan declaration on Saturday, March 30:

“We are proud that the Wakhan National Park is in one of the last truly wild places on the planet. We are proud to have a National Park on the ‘Roof of the World.’ It was also a dream of my late grandfather to have a National Park in the Wakhan after he had initiated the steps in the 1950s. I am grateful to the very dedicated staff of WCS and I look forward to our further collaboration in this very worthy cause. We can prove that the cause of protecting the environment and wildlife can also be utilized as an instrument of peace and tolerance.”

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which has worked in Afghanistan since 2006 with support from USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), has been conducting conservation and governance building work in Wakhan District in partnership with NEPA, MAIL, and local communities. WCS was also actively involved in providing technical support to the Afghan Government in preparation for today’s declaration of Wakhan National Park.

“With all of the uncertainty facing Afghanistan,” said WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper, “the news declaring Wakhan District as a national park is heartening. This declaration by the Government of Afghanistan will help the people living in this extremely remote area by providing jobs connected to the park and will offer protection to endangered wildlife and key watersheds and landscapes. WCS welcomes this pivotal move by the Afghanistan Government, and we are committed to continuing helping the people and wildlife of the Wakhan.”

Director-General Zaher added: “After many consultations with the noble people of the Wakhan and with all of the stakeholders involved during the past five years, I am firmly convinced that the Wakhan National Park – with endemic and migratory birds, wildlife reserves, unique fish sanctuaries, protected areas for rare plants, butterflies and high-altitude wetlands – will bring benefits to the people of Wakhan, their rich culture and natural heritage.”

More than 13,000 Wakhi people and a remnant population of 1,500 ethnic Kyrgyz inhabit the valley that traverses Wakhan District, from west to east, subsisting on small-scale agriculture and livestock rearing. The decision to designate the Wakhan as a protected area was made in close collaboration and partnership with these communities, and the park’s design will allow for the continuation of traditional livelihoods while providing improved services, jobs, and revenue related to the protected area to better their lives. A recent Global Environment Fund (GEF) grant through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will help WCS and Afghanistan’s government and people fully establish this new national park.

Peter Zahler, WCS Asia Program Deputy Director, said: “We are delighted by this historic event. Wakhan National Park will protect over 70 percent of snow leopard habitat in Afghanistan, and it will bring desperately needed services to some of the poorest and most isolated people in the country. It also shows Afghanistan’s continued commitment to fulfilling its global obligations to protect its biodiversity and determination to move forward and realize a bright future for the country.”

WCS partners with government and more than 65 communities to promote conservation and sustainable management of natural resources in Afghanistan using an integrated, community-based approach. This includes scientific research; technical support to conservation and park management staff; establishment of local community conservation institutions; environmental education; management planning for protected areas; and identifying sustainable income generating opportunities for local people.

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