A new survey carried out by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists has shown that large mammals are surviving in some areas of Afghanistan after ten years of conflict. Using camera traps and DNA identification of scat samples, the team surveyed an area of 1,100 square kilometres in the conflict-ridden province of Nuristan.
The survey covered the country's montane deciduous and coniferous forests. Published in the journal Oryx, the survey found evidence of Asiatic black bears, grey wolves and endangered markhor goats. These findings support other recent studies which suggest that wildlife in Afghanistan continues to cling on despite deforestation, habitat degradation and lawlessness.
WCS is the only conservation NGO currently operating in Afghanistan. Their work concentrates on community conservation, education and training, in addition to providing an income for local communities through wildlife protection."This ongoing work in Afghanistan by WCS, supported by USAID, ensures the protection of wildlife and has a long-term positive effect on local communities," said Steven Sanderson, WCS President and CEO. "The surveys confirm the presence of globally important species in the area, 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, which has the effect of improving U.S. national security."
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funding helps to build resource management projects in Afghanistan and other regions suffering conflict. WCS believe that these projects help to stabilise areas without military intervention, potentially saving the U.S. money and lives.
However, like many government budgets, the U.S. foreign assistance budget - including the USAID Biodiversity Program - may be cut dramatically this year. In Afghanistan, USAID funded a WCS project to train local people to monitor and sustainably manage their wildlife, as well as other resources. This included the creation of Afghanistan's first national park.
"About 80 percent of Afghanistan's people depends directly on the country's natural resources for their survival," said Peter Zahler, Deputy Director for the WCS Asia Program. "USAID has shown great insight in recognizing the importance of natural resource management for the country's continued stability and reconstruction."
WCS community-based wildlife monitoring and resource management projects would suffer heavily with a lack of funding. Local communities rely on forest resources for income and survival. A lack of effective protection for these communities, in addition to unregulated logging and hunting, is causing problems in the Nuristan district. Local economic hardship is further destabilizing an already volatile region, impacting heavily on wildlife and communities.
Top Image: Yellow-throated Marten. Credit: Altaileopard