A Look at One of Afghanistan’s Most Endangered Animals

Afghanistan is one of the few countries in the world that the elusive snow leopard calls home. The secretive big cat inhabits the high mountains of Central Asia—some of the most remote landscapes on the planet—and the Wakhan Corridor of northeastern Afghanistan marks the westernmost edge of its territory.

Since ancient times, the snow leopard has been a sacred animal and an important cultural symbol for the mountain people with whom it shares its territory. Despite this status, however, the last several decades have seen the snow leopard pushed to the brink of extinction due to poaching, illegal trade, and the loss of habitat and prey due to development and expansion. At one point, estimates placed the snow leopard population of Afghanistan at only 50 to 60 animals.

snow leopard

A brighter future for the snow leopard?

Today, experts are hopeful that the snow leopard’s numbers will rise again due in large part to the efforts of a variety of country government agencies and NGOs that are making the preservation of this mysterious species a top priority. One organization dedicated to saving the snow leopard is the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program (GSLEP). Based in the Kyrgyz Republic, GSLEP brings together country governments, non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, local communities, and private sector representatives on a shared mission to conserve snow leopards and their precious high-mountain ecosystems.

To date, GSLEP has been remarkably successful in uniting these diverse stakeholders and in making progress by working together. In 2013, under the umbrella of GSLEP, the governments of all 12 of the snow leopard’s range countries—including Afghanistan, China, India, and Russia—unanimously adopted the Bishkek Declaration on the Conservation of the Snow Leopard, a resolution which outlined each government’s commitment to protecting and recovering snow leopard populations and habitats. The goal of the declaration is to secure at least 20 different snow leopard landscapes across the animal’s range by the year 2020 (a secure snow leopard landscape is one that is home to at least 100 breeding age snow leopards). According to recent reports from Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, the snow leopard’s numbers have significantly increased over the last few years.

What you need to know about snow leopards.

snow leopard

Interestingly, for all of their cultural significance, few people know much about the iconic snow leopard. The cat is rarely seen by humans, and due to its secretive behavior, many details about its life and habits remain a mystery. However, as a result of the increased conservation work that has been undertaken in recent years (including technological advancements like remote-triggered camera captures), our knowledge of snow leopards has been steadily increasing. Read on to learn some amazing facts about this unique species and to obtain an up close and personal look at one of the world’s most enigmatic animals.

Snow leopards are high-altitude specialists—Snow leopards tend to live above the treeline in high-altitude forests, alpine meadows, and high rocky areas, usually at elevations of 2,700 to 5,000 meters. In Russia, they have been observed at elevations as low as 540 meters, but their preferred terrain is steeper and more remote. In general, they favor broken rocky terrain and irregularly sloping areas and tend to avoid major valleys, forested areas, extensive open areas, and regions with a strong human presence.

Snow leopards are solitary—Like some other species of big cats, snow leopards are solitary animals who live and roam alone for most of their lives. The exception to this is mating pairs and females with their litters. Young snow leopards generally leave their mothers and siblings at about 18 to 22 months of age.

Snow leopards can travel long distances—Due to their solitary habits, snow leopards are widely dispersed over their territory and must often travel long distances to find prey and a remote habitat. Dispersing leopards (leopards that leave their family groups) have been known to traverse up to 65 kilometers of open terrain to reach more isolated, rocky territories, and some snow leopards have been recorded as far as 200 kilometers from their usual haunts.

Snow leopards are opportunistic predators—While some animals are specialized predators (only preying on specific species), snow leopards are what are known as “opportunistic predators.” What this means is that they hunt a wide variety of prey and may scavenge when possible and necessary. While their principal prey are ibex and blue sheep, they are capable of killing prey up to three times their own weight. Therefore, throughout their territory, the only animals unavailable to them as prey are adult camels, wild yak, and kiang. In terms of prey, snow leopards kill a large hooved animal (or equivalent) every 10 to 15 days and can stay with it for up to a week if they are not disturbed.

Spotlight on the First Afghan Youth Representative to the UN

For young people in Afghanistan, June 19, 2018, was an important day. Following a rigorous open competition, Ramiz Bakhtiar was selected to become the country’s first-ever Youth Representative to the United Nations. Read on to learn more about the UN Youth Delegate Program, why Afghanistan’s participation is important, and what’s ahead for the new Youth Representative.

What is the UN Youth Delegate Program and how does it work?

The United Nations welcomes and encourages youth to participate in its decision-making activities. The Youth Delegate Program was established to serve as the designated path for participation. At the global level, the program is coordinated by the Focal Point on Youth. However, it is up to each individual Member State of the UN to establish their own national youth delegate programs, and to choose or decide who will act as the youth representatives for their country. In countries where no program to select youth delegates exists, it may be necessary to lobby to have one created.

The roles and responsibilities of youth representatives may vary depending on the countries they represent, but most representatives are involved in matters such as providing input to their nation’s official UN delegations on youth-related issues and participating in the general work of their delegations. In addition, youth delegates are able to participate in any of the UN’s intergovernmental meetings, including the General Assembly, the functional Commissions of the Economic and Social Council, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and the Human Rights Council.

How was Afghanistan’s first Youth Representative to the UN selected?

Prior to 2018, Afghanistan did not have a national youth delegate program. The development and implementation of such a program required the effort and commitment of a number of different partners. The Government of the Netherlands served as the program sponsor and worked with groups including Afghanistan’s ministries of higher education, economy, and information and culture; the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; and Afghans for Progressive Thinking, an Afghan youth leadership organization, to establish the criteria for the program and create the selection process.

The open competition for Afghanistan’s inaugural youth delegate program attracted 60 applicants from all over the country. The candidates completed a multi-stage selection process that involved both video and in-person interviews. Finalists participated in a live debate hosted by the Bayat Foundation that took place on June 19, 2018, at the Bayat Media Center in Kabul. Attending the debate were the four members of the selection committee: Stef Blok, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs; Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan; Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister of Economic Cooperation; and Sofia Ramyar, the executive director Afghans for Progressive Thinking, a professional organization for youth.

Following the debate, Ramiz Bakhtiar was selected as Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the United Nations for 2018. The 28-year-old put himself through school by working as a street vendor, and today he is employed by the Dubai-based media firm MOBY Group. Bakhtiar is passionate about highlighting the struggles that Afghan youth face today and helping to build a brighter future for his contemporaries.

Why is it important for Afghanistan to have a Youth Representative to the UN?

According to the United Nations Population Fund, nearly two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population, or 63.7%, are under 25 years of age. Representing the promise of a new Afghanistan, this large, emerging cohort seeks peace, stability, and prosperity, but must contend with significant challenges, particularly when it comes to essential needs like health, education, and employment. Having a Youth Representative to the UN—someone like Ramiz Bakhtiar—who can show global leaders the face of Afghanistan’s new generation and give a voice to the unique issues they are facing—is an important way for Afghan youth to gain recognition and support in the fight for a better future.

What’s ahead for Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN?

One of Ramiz Bakhtiar’s most important responsibilities as Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the UN will be to meet and engage with other young Afghans and hear their ideas for building a country that is tolerant, peaceful, and forward-looking. Specifically, Bakhtiar will canvass his peers for their views on the UN, politics, and what role the UN should play in Afghanistan’s future development. Social media platforms are expected to be a key part of Bakhtiar’s efforts to engage young people in Afghanistan, gather their opinions, and share his activities.

So far, Bakhtiar has already made significant progress in engaging with Afghanistan’s young people, and in September 2018, he became the first-ever Afghan youth to address the United Nations Security Council during the 73rd General Assembly session. In his address, Bakhtiar highlighted the problems facing Afghan youth and potential solutions. He also described his peers’ goal of transforming Afghanistan into a hub of regional connectivity and a rich cultural, artistic, and historic resource for the world.

Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society – 4 Things You Need to Know

The government of Afghanistan is working hard to establish political and economic stability and to build a better, brighter future for its citizens. This challenging task is not something it can achieve alone.

Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs),both local and national, have an important role to play in supporting the government’s efforts. These entities are helping to bridge the gap between the Afghan population and the state. This is particularly the case when it comes to matters like the delivery of priority programs,the creation of better governance structures, and advocacy for vulnerable and under served groups.

However, CSOs in Afghanistan also face a number of hurdles, notably financial and capacity gaps and a frequent lack of public trust. It was to help address these challenges that the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society (AICS) was established in 2015.

The goal of AICS is to contribute to a stronger, more robust civil society in Afghanistan.It accomplishes this goal by raising the credibility of the civil society sector (including domestic NGOs and CSOs), engaging in dialogue and advocacy around civil society policy, and strengthening philanthropic efforts.

Read on to learn more about this important organization.

1. The launch of AICS is the result of nearly a decade of planning.

Although AICS was not officially established until 2015, the seeds of the organization were planted nearly a decade earlier.  In 2007, through the efforts of a number of entities—including the government of Afghanistan, the Aga Khan Development Network, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and the Asia Development Bank—an Enabling Environment conference was held in Kabul.

The impetus behind the conference was to identify practical measures by which Afghanistan could create an environment that would facilitate progress and development. As a result, the country could move from a climate of fragility to one of confidence in a strong future.

One of the most important recommendations to emerge from the conference was the creation of an independent body to review and provide certification for CSOs.  Such an entity would improve their recognition by government agencies, the private sector, and donor organizations.

The conference recognized the importance of CSOs to the successful development of Afghanistan. However, it was acknowledged that many CSOs, due to the challenges mentioned above, fell short of achieving their full potential. Thus, after extensive consultations with relevant stakeholders, AICS was launched in February of 2015.

2. NGO certification is AICS’ flagship program.

Given its mandate to support a credible and competent civil society sector in Afghanistan, AICS focuses most of its efforts on its flagship certification program for CSOs. The certification program involves assessing and evaluating Afghan CSOs against a number of key standards.

Entities are evaluated on key areas like internal governance, strategic management, program delivery, and financial management. Additionally, these standards are locally defined and internationally recognized.

In total, there are 66 standards involved in certification. CSOs are certified by AICS after a comprehensive process which includes an eligibility test, a desk review, and a field assessment visit. As of August 2018, 34 Afghan CSOs have earned AICS certification.

3. There are many benefits to becoming an AICS-certified NGO.

By participating in the AICS certification process, entities demonstrate that their policies and activities are aligned with international best practices.  Certification also means local NGOs and CSOs enjoy many valuable benefits.  These include: better organizational capacity and performance; additional influence in policy dialogues due to improved credibility; opportunities to build long-term funding relationships with private sector partners and international donors; and greater trust among their constituencies as a result of improved accountability and transparency.

In addition, CSOs that are certified by AICS have the opportunity to join the certified CSOs Working Group. This group works to increase the effectiveness of individual CSOs and to improve the civil society sector as a whole by providing opportunities for members to connect with each other and share knowledge and experiences. Members of the Working Group meet once every quarter for mutual support and exchange.

4. AICS is one of the driving forces behind National Civil Society Week.

In addition to its CSO certification work, AICS organizes other activities and events that aim to strengthen Afghanistan’s civil society sector. One of the most important recent initiatives spearheaded by AICS was National Civil Society Week. This event was celebrated in Herat province in late June, 2018.

National Civil Society Week was an unprecedented gathering of more than 150 CSOs, individual activists, government and private sector representatives, media members, and academics from across Afghanistan. The aim of the event was, in many ways, to continue the conversation begun in 2007 at the Enabling Environment conference.

That is, it was intended to provide an open space for participants to reflect on, learn about, and collaborate on issues relating to the development of a robust civil society sector in Afghanistan. Specific events that took place as part of National Civil Society Week included panel discussions, presentations from international speakers, a celebration of CSO success stories, an educational theater production, and an award ceremony for newly-AICS-certified CSOs.