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Afghan wildlife shows “incredible resilience” amid war

June 28, 2011
Courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society
and World Science staff

Wild­life in Af­ghan­i­stan is show­ing “in­cred­i­ble re­silience” af­ter dec­ades of war, said a sci­ent­ist who worked on a new sur­vey of large mam­mals in the conflict-torn land.

The sur­vey, by the New York-based Wild­life Con­serva­t­ion So­ci­e­ty, re­vealed that large mam­mals, in­clud­ing Asi­at­ic black bears, gray wolves, mar­khor goats, and leop­ard cats sur­vive in parts of Af­ghan­i­stan.

Cam­er­as cap­tured a wide va­ri­e­ty of wild­life spe­cies still hang­ing on in the Nu­ri­stan prov­ince, in­clud­ing yellow-throated mar­ten, above. (Cred­it: WC­S/Afghan­i­stan)


Re­search­ers used meth­ods in­clud­ing cam­era traps and DNA iden­ti­fica­t­ion of scat sam­ples in the first wild­life up­date in the conflict-plagued east­ern prov­ince of Nu­ri­stan since 1977. 

The sur­vey con­firmed the pres­ence of sev­er­al im­por­tant spe­cies in the re­gion’s moun­tain­ous for­ests, re­search­ers said, in­clud­ing the first doc­u­mented sight­ing of the com­mon palm civ­et in the coun­try. 

The re­sults mir­ror stud­ies in oth­er parts of Af­ghan­i­stan in­di­cat­ing that wild­life con­tin­ues to sur­vive de­spite de­for­esta­t­ion, hab­i­tat de­grada­t­ion, and dec­ades of law­less­ness, sci­ent­ists said. The Nu­ri­stan study was done be­tween 2006 and 2009 and cov­ered an ar­ea of 1,100 square kilo­me­ters (425 square miles). Funded by the U.S. Agen­cy for In­terna­t­ional De­vel­op­ment, the work is pub­lished in the lat­est edi­tion of the jour­nal Or­yx

“This on­go­ing work… en­sures the pro­tec­tion of wild­life and has a long-term pos­i­tive ef­fect on lo­cal com­mun­i­ties,” said Ste­ven Sander­son, Pres­ident and CEO of the wild­life or­gan­iz­a­tion. “The sur­veys con­firm the pres­ence of glob­ally im­por­tant spe­cies… de­spite in­dica­t­ions of hab­i­tat loss and un­con­trolled hunt­ing. This high­lights the need for tar­geted con­serva­t­ion pro­grams to pro­tect for­est re­sources – in­clud­ing wild­life – that pro­vide liveli­hoods for peo­ple. Sus­tain­a­ble nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment, in­clud­ing teach­ing new skills and build­ing gov­ern­ance struc­tures in lo­cal com­mun­i­ties, can help sta­bi­lize the re­gion.”

“Af­ghan­i­stan’s en­vi­ron­ment – like the Af­ghan peo­ple – has shown in­cred­i­ble re­sil­ience in the face of dec­ades of in­sta­bil­ity,” added Kara Ste­vens, lead au­thor of the stu­dy. But “fu­ture sup­port is nec­es­sary to en­sure that com­mun­i­ties can sus­tainably man­age these re­sources for genera­t­ions to come.” About 80 per­cent of Af­ghans live di­rectly off nat­u­ral re­sources, said Pe­ter Zahler, dep­u­ty di­rector for the so­ci­ety’s Asia Pro­gram.

The stu­dy’s au­thors not­ed that op­por­tun­i­ties for wild­life con­serva­t­ion in Af­ghan­i­stan are lim­it­ed due to se­cur­ity prob­lems. Nu­ri­stan’s re­mote­ness pro­tects wildl­life some­what, but the ef­fects of 30 years of un­reg­u­lat­ed log­ging and hunt­ing mean for­ests and wild­life are very much at risk, they said; con­tin­ued loss of the re­sources may lead to eco­nom­ic hard­ship that could fur­ther desta­bi­lize the re­gion.


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Wildlife in Afghanistan is showing “incredible resilience” after decades of war, said a scientist who worked on a new survey of large mammals in the conflict-torn land. The survey, by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, revealed that large mammals, including Asiatic black bears, gray wolves, markhor goats, and leopard cats survive in parts of Afghanistan. Researchers used methods including camera traps and DNA identification of scat samples in the first wildlife update in the conflict-plagued eastern province of Nuristan since 1977. The survey confirmed the presence of several important species in the region’s mountainous forests, researchers said, including the first documented sighting of the common palm civet in the country. The results mirror studies in other parts of Afghanistan indicating that wildlife continues to survive despite deforestation, habitat degradation, and decades with the absence of rule of law, scientists said. The Nuristan study was done between 2006 and 2009 and covered an area of 1,100 square kilometers (425 square miles). Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the work is published in the latest edition of the journal Oryx. “This ongoing work… ensures the protection of wildlife and has a long-term positive effect on local communities,” said Steven Sanderson, President and CEO of the wildlife organization. “The surveys confirm the presence of globally important species… despite indications of habitat loss and uncontrolled hunting. This highlights the need for targeted conservation programs to protect forest resources – including wildlife – that provide livelihoods for people. Sustainable natural resource management, including teaching new skills and building governance structures in local communities, can help stabilize the region.” “Afghanistan’s environment – like the Afghan people – has shown incredible resilience in the face of decades of instability,” added Kara Stevens, lead author of the study. But “future support is necessary to ensure that communities can sustainably manage these resources for generations to come.” About 80 percent of Afghans live directly off natural resources, said Peter Zahler, deputy director for the society’s Asia Program. The study’s authors noted that opportunities for wildlife conservation measures in Afghanistan are limited due to security problems. Nuristan’s remoteness protects wildllife somewhat, but the effects of 30 years of unregulated logging and hunting mean forests and wildlife are very much at risk, they said; continued loss of the resources may lead to economic hardship that could further destabilize the region.