Thursday, June 29, 2006

Afhanistan Preserves for Leopards

U.S. group launches effort to establish wildlife reserves in Afghanistan(Updated 05:28 p.m.)




BANGKOK, Thailand (AP)




A conservation group said Thursday it is launching an effort to establish wildlife reserves in war-torn Afghanistan, where conservationist efforts have largely been sidelined by the government's long-running battle with the Taliban.


The program by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society or WCS, will consider establishing reserves in five areas, including the Pamir-I-Buzurg, Little Pamir, and the Waghjir Valley, all located in the mountainous far northeastern handle of the country, and Bande Amir and Ajar Valley, located in the central plateau region.



The project will include a three-year biodiversity project to review government environmental policies, develop a database of existing wildlife populations and set up a wildlife monitoring program, the WCS said in a statement.



"This is an important and exciting moment for Afghanistan, which contains some of the most beautiful wild lands in Asia," Peter Zahler, Assistant Director for WCS Asia Program and a researcher in the region for over a decade, said in the statement.



The project will be funded by the United States Agency for International Development and conducted in partnership with the government of Afghanistan, the statement said.



"Conservation is critical for recovery and stability in a country where so many people directly depend on local natural resources for their survival," Zahler said. "Conservation can also inspire local communities and even neighboring countries to work together to protect the regions natural heritage."



Afghanistan's natural landscape is dominated by the Hindu Kush mountain range and the Pamir Knot, a region where the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, Tien Shan, and Himalayan ranges come together to form some of the greatest mountains in the world.



The WCS said the ecosystems support a wide range of large mammal species, including the Marco Polo sheep, the world's largest. Other mammals found in Afghanistan include the ibex, the Persian leopard, gazelles, and the elusive snow leopard.



"Conserving Afghanistan's unique biological diversity is an important element of U.S. Agency for International Development's overall reconstruction program in the country," said Alonzo Fulgham, USAID's Mission Director in Afghanistan, in the statement.

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