Pamir Mountains, Central Asia

Pamir Mountains, Afghanistan Photo
©S. Ostrowski

The Pamir mountain range, flanked by the Hindu Kush, Himalayan, Karakoram, and Kunlun ranges, is one of the most spectacular mountain regions on earth. Its isolation and low human density offer a unique refuge for wildlife that has been all but exterminated in surrounding areas. Today, these mountains are still home to healthy populations of the endangered Marco Polo sheep and provide a stronghold for the fast disappearing snow leopard.

The borders of four countries—Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and Tajikistan—meet at this confluence of stunning mountain peaks and deep valleys. There is a critical need for coordinated conservation and development efforts among the four countries. This would ensure that the native wildlife continues to thrive and that the communities of these mountains enjoy improved livelihoods through better management of their resources.

Fast Facts

  • “Pamir” means “U-shaped valley,” which is a common feature in these mountains. The large high-elevation valleys with their grasslands and rivers are home to permanent herding communities.
  • Home to at least 18 ethnic groups, the Pamirs are a highly diverse cultural region.
  • The Pamirs are virtually treeless; dwarf shrubs, streamside willows, and buckthorn bushes are the main woody vegetation in the high mountains.


A major threat in the Pamirs is unsustainable hunting of species such as Marco Polo sheep and snow leopards. Fences, especially those along border regions, pose a threat to the Marco Polo sheep and other wildlife that need to migrate to find new pastures, especially in winter. Differing levels of protection and enforcement among the four countries present a unique challenge, as wildlife often crosses borders and faces different levels of threats.

WCS Responds

In Afghanistan, WCS has helped the government to 1) collect the first baseline data on wildlife in the Pamirs; 2) create wildlife and rangeland management bylaws for community committees across the entire Pamirs region; 3) facilitate the creation of an umbrella organization, the Wakhan Pamirs Association, that can make resource management decisions for the region; 4) arrange the hiring and training of 44 community rangers to protect and monitor wildlife across the Afghan Pamirs; 5) work with local communities and the government to delineate agreed boundaries for protected areas; 7) officially create a protected species list that includes both the Marco Polo sheep and snow leopard.

In Pakistan, we have expanded our community conservation program into the Mishgar region of the Pamirs, and we expect to expand it into Ghizer and Gilgit districts in the next few years.

In China, WCS has been working on wildlife conservation in the Pamirs region since the 1980s. We have developed monitoring protocols for large wildlife species of concern and have helped government agencies with enforcement training. We plan to continue monitoring efforts to provide information to China on wildlife management needs.

In Tajikistan, WCS met repeatedly with the central government authorities to encourage their participation in a transboundary initiative. We have also surveyed wildlife and studied disease interactions between livestock and Marco Polo sheep in the Pamir region.

From the Newsroom

Afghanistan Creates Super-ParkApril 2, 2014

The Afghanistan Government recently created a national park, the second for the country, that covers the entire Wakhan District. The Wakhan National Park is home to the Marco Polo sheep seen here - a subspecies of argali sheep known for having the longest horns of any sheep.

Tracking Afghanistan's Elusive Snow LeopardsJuly 17, 2012

For the first time in Afghanistan, snow leopards have been fitted with satellite tracking collars. After affixing collars, performing dental exams, and taking DNA samples, WCS conservationists and Afghan veterinarians released the cats in healthy condition. Since being released, these cats have traveled more than 77 miles each.

Endangered Markhor Catch PneumoniaJanuary 6, 2012

A pneumonia outbreak reduces numbers of a wild population of endangered wild goats in Tajikistan by as much as 20 percent. Fewer than 2,500 markhor are left in the wild.

Caught in the CrosshairsDecember 23, 2011

A new video narrated by Edward Norton aims to combat the illegal wildlife trade in Iraq and Afghanistan by informing U.S. military personnel about the consequences of buying wildlife products while stationed overseas.

Nurturing Wildlife in War-Torn AfghanistanDecember 5, 2011

The New York Times reports on WCS's ongoing work in Afghanistan to protect endangered big cats and other wildlife while creating grass-roots initiatives to inspire local conservation action.


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