Afghanistan Declares First National Park


Band-e-Amir Lake Kara, the largest of six lakes. Photograph by Alex Dehgan/WCS; Text by Tetsuhiko Endo

Thirty years of intermittent war have taken a toll on just about everything in Afghanistan, including its wildlife. Conflict and poaching have decimated a big cat population that once contained more species than Africa, including the now endangered snow leopard. Despite, or maybe because of, the grim outlook, Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency announced today the establishment of the country’s first internationally recognized national park in Band-e-Amir.

“At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). “Band-e-Amir will be Afghanistan’s first national park and sets the precedent for a future national park system.”

Established with the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the WCS, the park consists of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit. Travertine systems are found in only a few places throughout the world, virtually all of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Although tourism in Band-e-Amir dropped off greatly between 1979 to 2001 due to conflict, both national and international tourists have started to return in the last decade to visit these natural wonders. For a great description of the area, see Scott Anderson’s classic adventure story “Coming of Age in Band-i-Amir.”

Tourists in the park can see ibex (a species of wild goat) and urial (a type of wild sheep) along with wolves, foxes, smaller mammals and fish, and various bird species including the Afghan snow finch. Unfortunately, the snow leopards that used to roam the area are now completely gone.

Big cats or no, in a country that has seen three decades of violence, the establishment of a national park is a step in the right direction.

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