July 18, 2007

Bird Survey in the Wakhan Pamirs

Afghanistan has quite a few bird species in common with Mongolia, and it is commonly believed that the Hazara, an ethnic group who reside mainly in the central region of Afghanistan, are descendants of the armies and settlers of Genghis Khan's Mongolians, who marched into the area in the 12th century. So there is some kind of connection between Afghanistan and Mongolia, and I thought that I can forward a request by Peter Zahler, Asia Program Assistant Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, to Birding Mongolia. Details below. Birding Afghanistan - a really unique summer opportunity to make a difference to global ornithological knowledge.


I'm in need of a real birder. In fact, in the best of all possible worlds, two real birders, to do a full-scale ornithological survey of the Afghan Pamirs. Yes, the wonderful Wakhan Corridor, home to a host of alpine specialists, and a region of the world that has not had a decent ornithological survey since the early 1970s, if you can qualify the work that was done then as decent.

Now, I suspect you might be saying to yourself, "Afghanistan? Is he crazy?" If you are, the answer is an emphatic no. We have a tremendous biodiversity conservation program going full-blast in Afghanistan, primarily focused on the Wakhan Pamirs (that little pencil sticking out to the east, mostly above 4,000 meters). The program has been underway since the beginning of 2006, and currently has over 60 people working on it, including about a dozen international experts from around the world. We've sent over 10 separate teams into the Wakhan already, ranging from snow leopard and other large mammal surveys to Marco Polo sheep research to community conservation initiatives to rangeland assessments to wildlife-livestock vet studies. You can learn a bit more about the basics of the program at www.wcs.org/asia/Afghanistan.

Regarding overall safety in the country, the Wakhan is, despite newspaper alarmism to the contrary, probably as safe as Mongolia's Eastern Steppe these days, and our program has multiple security systems in place that exceed UN standards, whether in Kabul or travelling in the countryside. I've been in-country now about a dozen times since the program started, and I have no greater concerns about safety there than I do in any other country we work in. Of course there are security risks (as there are anywhere), but we are extraordinarily careful, have multiple and redundant systems, and as mentioned the Wakhan was never really touched by the conflicts that affected the rest of the country, and thus only has the normal risks related to remote alpine habitats.

What we're looking for is one or better a pair of experts who have at least 45 days, preferably 60 (it takes a while to get up there, and it's a big region) later this year to do a systematic survey of the Wakhan. WCS would provide a reasonable stipend and cover all costs, from airfares to in-country expenses. We would provide any equipment that is needed, including vehicles and horses, and we would provide a local guide or guides, as well as students from Kabul University and/or a government counterpart to act as assistants and, hopefully, get some training (capacity building is a huge part of the program, given that the 25 years of conflict has left the country with almost no capacity in almost any subject). Having sent over a dozen teams into the Wakhan already, we have a smooth operation, including a WCS Wakhan Manager who is placed in the region full-time to provide local support (we have also placed a doctoral candidate with the Wakhan Kyrgyz at the far end of the corridor, and he will be there full-time for the next year doing research and helping with logistics and support).

If time were available, there would also be the potential for a short survey trip to the Hazarajat Plateau region (central Afghanistan), home to the incredible six-lake natural-travertine-dam Band-i-Amir watershed (and of course the Bamiyan Buddhas) C we have a project there as well, at what is probably going to be both the first official protected area in Afghanistan and also the country's first Natural World Heritage Site.

If you are interested but have questions, please feel free to contact either me (pzahler at wcs.org) or our WCS Afghanistan Country Director, Dr. Alex Dehgan (adehgan at wcs.org, based in our full-time Kabul office and cc'ed here).

Warmest regards,

Peter Zahler
Asia Program Assistant Director
Wildlife Conservation Society
2300 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, NY 10460

1 comment:

Jason h said...

Hey! i'm going to cali this sunday.. gonna be there for a week, this is the site i was talking about where i made the extra cash. later!