95th ESA Annual Meeting (August 1 -- 6, 2010)

OOS 36-9 - Conserving wildlife and wild lands in conflict zones: Afghanistan

Wednesday, August 4, 2010: 4:20 PM
401-402, David L Lawrence Convention Center
Peter D. Smallwood1, David Lawson2 and Peter Zahler2, (1)Biology, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, (2)Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY
Background/Question/Methods Afghanistan lies at the juncture of the Paleoarctic, IndoMalayan, and African biotic realms, and therefore has a rich biodiversity.  For example, there are at least 9 species of cat extant in Afghanistan now, with two others only recently extirpated from the country.  It is home to such iconic species as snow leopards (Uncia uncia), Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii), and  Markor goat (Capra falconeri). From deserts to mixed deciduous forests to high alpine grasslands, there are wildlands and wildlife worthy of conservation.  The Wildlife Conservation Society began its current project on Biodiversity Conservation in Afghanistan in 2006.  The project involves local communities in three regions of Afghanistan, and with the central government to help them develop the legal framework and policies for protected areas, protected species, and conservation. 
Results/Conclusions There was very little in the way of a legal framework for conservation in Afghanistan when we began, and very little expertise in conservation in the Afghan government or academia. Security declined significantly over most of the life of the project thus far, but may improve in 2010.  Despite these challenges, we have made significant progress. We have conducted the first large scale surveys of wildlife populations and rangeland health in decades, establishing a baseline of ecological data.  We have helped them establish their first legally protected area, in the form of their first National park. We have helped them establish the institutions and process for protecting endangered/threatened species, and they have issued their first ever list of protected species.  In this presentation, we will review these and other accomplishments to date, plans for continued work, and the challenges of working for conservation within a country in conflict.  We will discuss the intersecting goals of economic and political development with the goals of biodiversity conservation, and how this affects the evolving role of an ecologist in this conservation effort.