posted on September 18, 2011 01:28
This summer, the WCS field team with government staff and community field guides had a 2-week long reconnaissance survey mission in Shahri Buzurg district, in northeastern Afghanistan. The team mostly concentrated in northern Shahri Buzurg along the Panj River, where it is considered part of the historical range for Markhor and other large mammals. The team carried out interviews with local communities, raising public awareness about wildlife and natural resources among these communities. The team conducted field visits in the mountains, and met with government officials, community leaders, CDCs, and Arbabs in the area and briefed them about the importance of wildlife in their areas.
Using spotting scopes, compasses, GPS and binoculars, the team surveyed various villages and valleys along the Panj River on the Tajikistan border in the last two weeks of July, and recorded sightings of 4 Markhors, 81 bird species and other wildlife species. This is the first confirmation of a Markhor population in the northeast of Afghanistan and was a really exciting result given that most people believed that the Markhor was already locally extinct from the area. One of the most significant threats to wildlife in this area is illegal hunting by local communities and governmental officials. In one of the villages during the survey for example, the techniques used in hunting of wild birds (e.g. Chukar partridge) were explained to the survey team. Similarly in another village the locals showed a pair of Markhor horns and a skin from an animal that had been shot by them.
However, the presence of Markhor is promising news for the species’ global conservation. It is also an encouraging sign for Markhor populations on the other side of the border in Tajikistan and demonstrates the significance of this unique landscape, both regionally and internationally, for wildlife conservation and possible cross border protected area co-operation.
This field and community integrated survey, designed and led by an Afghan biologist (Zalmai Moheb from WCS) was part of a broader survey in Darwaz in northern Badakshan province in Afghanistan. The remaining part of this survey will be conducted later this year.