How Is the WCS Helping to Protect At-Risk Afghan Wildlife?

WCS logoFrom the secretive snow leopard to the majestic Marco Polo sheep, many unique species of wildlife call Afghanistan home. Unfortunately, factors like habitat encroachment, over-hunting or illegal poaching, and ecosystem degradation—all aggravated by Afghanistan’s years of conflict—are driving many of these species to the brink.

That’s where the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) comes in. Since 2004, this US-based organization has been leading environmental protection and preservation efforts across Afghanistan, and has successfully implemented conservation initiatives designed to address a broad range of environmental issues.

A number of these initiatives specifically target key Afghan wildlife species that are at risk of becoming endangered or extinct, and that are greatly in need of protective measures. Read on to learn more about some of these unique species and how WCS is helping to protect them.

 

The snow leopard

Only 12 countries in the world are home to the rare and exquisite snow leopard. In Afghanistan, the snow leopard can be found in the remote Wakhan region, as well as in the area along Afghanistan’s eastern borders in Nuristan and Badakhshan. WCS’ work to help protect the snow leopard includes:

 

Conducting foundational research

The better informed scientists and researchers are about snow leopards in Afghanistan, the better positioned they can be to implement effective protective measures and lobby for conservation policies and legislation that will make a difference. Since 2009, WCS and its teams of trained community rangers have used camera traps and other techniques to gather evidence and document the presence of snow leopards. The camera traps have together produced more than 5,000 images of the animals. Another especially important achievement in this area was the completion of the first-ever satellite telemetry study on Afghan snow leopards. Research to date has established that there are about 200 individual snow leopards in Afghanistan: a higher number than previously estimated.

 

snow-leopard

 

Promoting species protection

The creation of Wakhan National Park, facilitated by WCS in 2014 and based on WCS research, has helped to protect approximately 70% of Afghanistan’s total snow leopard habitat. WCS also helped ensure that the snow leopard was listed as a legally protected species by Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency in 2009, and later helped draft the 2013 National Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Plan.

 

Helping farmers

When humans and wildlife live in close proximity to one another, the inevitable clashes between the two can be harmful to both. For example, snow leopards that are unable to find other prey may occasionally kill livestock. For a small-scale farmer with few other resources, this loss can be devastating and can lead to the desire to retaliate against snow leopards. To help prevent livestock losses in the first place and thus limit ensuing loss of animal life, WCS has built 35 predator-safe communal corrals throughout the Wakhan area that farmers can use to help keep their livestock safe from snow leopard attacks.

 

The Marco Polo sheep

With their massive, curling horns, Marco Polo sheep are easily recognizable as the flagship species of northeastern Afghanistan’s Pamir mountain range. WCS is protecting these distinctive ungulates by:

 

Establishing protected areas

Just as the creation of Wakhan National Park protected a significant proportion of snow leopard habitat, it also protected the heartland of Afghanistan’s population of Marco Polo sheep. In fact, the new park encloses the entire distribution range of Marco Polo sheep, allowing for better ongoing tracking and management of the population.

 

 

Reducing disease threat

The transmission of disease between livestock and wildlife is a problem in areas where these two types of animals have the opportunity to come into contact with each other. Given that Marco Polo sheep can live in close proximity to farms where cattle, goats, or other livestock graze freely, there is a high likelihood they might be affected by livestock diseases, or pass their own diseases on to domesticated animals. WCS is helping to reduce this risk by implementing transboundary surveys of livestock diseases in the Pamir area and working to facilitate an integrated approach to the study of diseases that impact livestock and wildlife alike.

 

Birdlife

Its central location at the crossroads of several distinct biogeographic spheres makes Afghanistan an incredible habitat for birds. Over 450 different bird species call the country home, and 17 of these are globally threatened, like the critically endangered Siberian crane. WCS efforts and achievements in protecting Afghanistan’s birdlife include:

 

Identifying critical breeding areas

In recent years, WCS has identified and confirmed the location of breeding grounds for a number of rare bird species found in Afghanistan. Chief among these is Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, which is the world’s highest-elevation breeding ground for greater flamingoes.

 

Siberian crane

 

Discovering a new bird species for Afghanistan

The identification of a new species is always an exciting event, helping to build greater awareness of local wildlife and the need to protect it. In 2008, WCS discovered a likely breeding population of large-billed reed warblers in Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan. The species has since been dubbed “the world’s least-known bird.”

The Bayat Foundation Supports Higher Education for Afghans

Founded by Fatema and Ehsan Bayat in 2006, the Bayat Foundation aims to provide hope and assistance to Afghans in need while working to rebuild the country. A 501(c)(3) charitable organization based in the United States, the foundation focuses on initiatives designed to improve the health and well-being of all Afghans.

The Bayat Foundation also maintains a commitment to closing the educational gap in the country. To this end, it has undertaken a number of projects designed to enhance academic opportunities in Afghanistan for everyone from children to college students. For example, the nonprofit has provided a range of support to learning centers that serve refugees and young people who have been orphaned, among other vulnerable groups. Another recipient of the foundation’s assistance has been institutions of higher learning, most notably the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF).

 

American University of Afghanistan Receives Assistance

American University of AfghanistanLocated in Kabul, the American University of Afghanistan holds distinction as the country’s only private, nonprofit, independent, co-ed, nonsectarian institution of higher learning. AUAF, which awards undergraduate degrees in four areas of study and master’s degrees in two, has graduated nearly 1,000 students since opening in 2006. Graduates of AUAF have gone on to secure high-level positions with the Afghan government, as well as national and international organizations. Other graduates of AUAF have gained admission to universities in countries around the world.

AUAF holds accreditation from the Ministry of Higher Education and maintains partnerships with Stanford University, Georgetown University, the University of California system, as well as other institutions in the United States and Middle East. Through these relationships, the institution strives to ensure that it continues to provide students with a world-class education.

In order to help AUAF to achieve its goals, the Bayat Foundation recently underwrote the construction of the university’s new Bayat Institute of Technology, which opened in spring 2018. The 32,000-square-foot academic center houses seven laboratories, six lecture halls, and a library. At these state-of-the-art facilities, students and educators have an opportunity to take part in demanding research and teaching, which has the effect of expanding Afghanistan’s technical, scientific, and engineering knowledge. The center also provides support to Afghan-led innovation and entrepreneurship in the fields of technology and science.

 

Completion of the Bayat Institute of Technology

The Bayat Institute of Technology, which also consists of 22 faculty offices, two prayer halls, a rooftop leisure center, and an atrium social center, was built using sustainable design and construction methods. Air circulates naturally through the atrium, while myriad windows allow for ample natural light. LED lighting has also been employed, as has repurposed marble.

The marble has been integrated with aluminum, porcelain, and gypsum to create an architecturally sound, earthquake-resistant structure. What’s more, the Bayat Institute of Technology’s radiant alabaster-colored exterior and other architectural and design elements coalesce to produce a distinguished-looking building that stands out as a marvel of Afghan craftsmanship.

In addition to underwriting the construction of the Bayat Institute of Technology, the Bayat Foundation has established a $1 million endowment fund, which will cover the operational costs of the building for the next decade. This ongoing support will extend what Ehsan Bayat calls an “unbreakable partnership” between the foundation and AUAF.

In previous years, this partnership has seen the Bayat Foundation work to improve other facilities on AUAF’s Kabul campus. In 2009, the nonprofit assisted AUAF in renovating the school gymnasium. Five years later, it again enhanced the gymnasium, this time reconstructing it. Now known as the Michelle Bayat Gymnasium, the facility benefited from the addition of new flooring, basketball hoops, and exercise spaces. The 2014 renovation also included the addition of new ventilation, plumbing, and electrical systems.

 

Foundation Donates Textbooks to Nangarhar University

The Bayat Foundation’s support of higher education does not end with AUAF. Over the years, the nonprofit has drawn on its resources to furnish quality textbooks to universities throughout Afghanistan. In 2014, Nangarhar University received a generous donation of textbooks, which the foundation provided with the cooperation of the international humanitarian nonprofit Operation Compassion.

Located in Jalalabad, Nangarhar University has offered a quality education to Afghans since it opened in 1963. Solely a medical school at the time of its inception, the institution has since expanded to comprise 13 colleges and 73 departments. Currently, 467 lecturers instruct 14,004 students in the university’s wide-ranging bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD programs.

Due to the Bayat Foundation’s donation, Nangarhar University will be able to continue to expand the knowledge of its students in the coming years. In the past, the foundation has also facilitated textbook donations for Maimana University, an institution located in Faryab Province.

The Bayat Foundation encourages anyone who is passionate about improving the education, health, and well-being of Afghans to support its various initiatives. Individuals can make a donation or engage in a number of other fund-raising efforts, such as participating in a charitable-matching program at their workplace. The nonprofit also welcomes the assistance of volunteers, sponsors, and public speakers to help spread the word about its important work.

Spotlight on the Next Generation of Afghan Tech Entrepreneurs

As Afghanistan rebuilds after years of conflict, a new wave of young, ambitious Afghans are slowly but surely revitalizing the country’s tech sector, but they’re not doing it alone. Startup Grind Afghanistan is one of a number of organizations dedicated to supporting the next generation of forward-thinking Afghan entrepreneurs and ensuring they have the tools, knowledge, and connections they need to succeed.

As a result of this help, the future is looking brighter than ever for Afghanistan-based startups. Read on to learn more.

 

What is Startup Grind Afghanistan?

startupgrindStartup Grind Afghanistan is a member of a global startup community known as Startup Grind, which is a connected network of vibrant new startups. Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, Startup Grind was created with a mission to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs around the world.

In support of this goal, the organization hosts regular events in more than 250 cities. These events bring the personal stories, life lessons, and knowledge of successful founders, innovators, educators, and investors to emerging entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their own paths to success.

Driven by the values of connecting, giving back, and helping others before helping yourself, Startup Grind now has local chapters in 350 cities worldwide. It has supported the startup journeys of more than one million entrepreneurs.

Startup Grind Afghanistan, also called Startup Grind Kabul, is Afghanistan’s local Startup Grind Chapter. It was launched by Ahmad Fahim Didar, the CEO and founder of Aghaez Consulting Group, who is passionate about entrepreneurship because it allows individuals and groups to create businesses that truly reflect their values.

Didar first conceived the idea of launching a Kabul chapter of Startup Grind in 2014. In August of that year, he contacted Startup Grind’s founder and CEO and applied to be a Startup Grind local director. Although his application was accepted, Didar wasn’t quite ready to commit at that time given Afghanistan’s tense political and economic environment. A year later, however, he dedicated himself to building a startup community in Afghanistan, and Startup Grind Afghanistan/Kabul was born.

 

How does Startup Grind Afghanistan support entrepreneurs?

startup

Startup Grind Afghanistan is working to build a thriving startup community in Afghanistan by showing young people that entrepreneurship is not only possible, but is a viable career choice and way of life. By sharing stories of successful entrepreneurs and providing support and tools, Ahmad Fahim Didar and Startup Grind Afghanistan want to encourage young Afghan graduates to be proactive about their own futures and the role they can play in rebuilding and revitalizing their country.

As Didar has said in previous interviews, changing young people’s mindsets from “the government needs to create jobs for Afghans” to “what can I do to create jobs at the micro level?” is one of Startup Grind Afghanistan’s most important endeavors.

Practically speaking, Startup Grind Afghanistan also offers regular events, networking opportunities, and other resources, tools, and support to emerging entrepreneurs and startups. For example, at the Startup Grind launch event, participants attended information sessions on topics covering everything from how to make the leap from having an idea to starting a company, to the benefits of working with a mentor, to practical ideas for securing startup financing.

In addition, Startup Grind Afghanistan’s regular speaker series, held on a monthly or bi-monthly basis since early 2016, features presentations from some of Afghanistan’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. These include Farshid Gyashi, the founder of Afghanistan’s largest job website.

 

What do Afghan startups need and what are some of their biggest challenges?

According to Didar, the most important thing that Afghan startups need right now is inspiration and awareness. Entrepreneurs need to believe that they can succeed and attain a higher profile within the startup community, both locally and internationally. Didar also believes that facilities—like incubator and accelerator hubs and co-working spaces—are essential for giving startups not only the physical space they need to create and develop their ideas, but also the connection and support of a community of their peers.

The need for facilities links naturally to the question of the challenges faced by Afghan startups. Of these, a lack of resources for larger-scale initiatives like incubator centers and co-working facilities is one of the biggest. It should be mentioned here that a few of these facilities do currently exist. They include the DAFTAR co-working space, Afghanistan’s first ever co-working facility established by the Afghanistan Center for Excellence, and the Ibtikaar tech incubation center.

However, Didar believes many more facilities are needed to help grow the Afghan startup community, particularly in areas outside Kabul. Other challenges that affect Afghan entrepreneurs include a lack of formal government support for startups, as well as a lack of clarity in government rules and regulations, especially when it comes to taxation.