Afghanistan Officially Protects “World’s Least Known Bird” and 47 Other Threatened Species
- Large-billed reed warbler, recently discovered by Wildlife Conservation Society-led team, added to protected species list
- WCS commends Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency for safeguarding species
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (February 28, 2010) – Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA) announced today that it would strengthen its Protected Species List by adding an additional 15 species, including the elusive large-billed reed warbler only recently discovered in Afghanistan by researchers working for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) on a USAID-funded project. There are now a total of 48 protected species in Afghanistan.
NEPA, in cooperation with WCS, took immediate steps to protect the large-billed reed warbler, cited by BirdLife International as the world’s least known bird species, because by law, newly discovered species receive automatic legal protection in Afghanistan. Such protection is crucial since Afghanistan may constitute one of the only known principal breeding habitats for this rare species which, previous to 2006, had only been known from two specimens: one collected in India in 1867 followed by the discovery of a single bird in Thailand in 2006.
Threats to the large-billed reed warbler in Afghanistan include habitat loss and degradation from fuel wood collection and agricultural practices.
In addition to the large-billed reed warbler, Afghanistan listed 14 other species (seven mammals, six birds, and one tree) including two eagle species, a cat species, and the striped hyena. The additional species were evaluated by the Afghanistan Wildlife Executive Committee (AWEC), which was created in 2008 to recommend species for Afghanistan’s Protected List. The Committee is composed of representatives from NEPA, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, and Kabul University and contains advisors from WCS and the Biodiversity Support Program/Ecodit.
“By formally protecting the large-billed reed warbler as well as other wildlife, Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency has shown a strong commitment to conserving its natural heritage – even during these challenging times,” said Peter Zahler, Wildlife Conservation Society Deputy Director for Asia programs. “WCS believes that with 80 percent of Afghans directly dependent on their natural resources for survival, the country’s reconstruction and stability depends on sustainable resource management.”
AWEC began its first evaluations in the autumn of 2008 and listed such important species as the snow leopard, Asiatic cheetah, and Marco Polo sheep. In 2009, it continued its work to list those species in Afghanistan where information was less readily available. To make status determinations, AWEC and WCS worked with world-experts to obtain the most recent and accurate information available for Afghanistan and the region, and then evaluated those data using scientific criteria established by the global authority on species listing – the IUCN Red List.
NEPA has also worked collaboratively with students at the University of Richmond in Virginia, USA to complete the listing process. In the autumn semester of 2009, students conducted research on Afghan species for AWEC and participated electronically in an evaluation session to answer questions for the Committee. Twenty of the species assessed by Richmond students are now listed as protected in Afghanistan.
NEPA will be responsible for managing Afghanistan’s protected species, which requires writing recovery plans for species designated as threatened. Species will be re-evaluated every five years to determine whether populations have recovered to the extent where they may be removed from the protected list.
NEPA gratefully acknowledges the assistance it has received from the international community, including the USAID-funded program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and looks forward to its continued partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock and Kabul University in managing Afghanistan’s threatened and endangered species.
WCS has been working since 2006 to help Afghanistan conserve its wildlife and natural resources. As part of this process, WCS is working with local communities and the Afghan government to establish a network of parks and protected areas. Last year, Afghanistan announced the creation of its first national park: Band-e-Amir, a spectacular series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit.
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