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.

What You Need to Know about the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

UNESCO logoIn 2015, the city of Bamiyan became the first urban center not only from Afghanistan, but from all of Central Asia, to become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). This unique global network fosters and facilitates cooperation between its members as they work to invest in creativity in order to drive sustainable urban development, social inclusion, and a vibrant cultural life. Read on to learn more about the UCCN’s mission and activities, and about Bamiyan’s membership in the network.

 

What is the UNESCO Creative Cities Network?

The UCCN is an international network of cities that have identified creativity as a key strategic factor in promoting sustainable urban development and are actively investing in local creative initiatives to help bring economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits to their residents. In other words, the UCCN’s member cities place creative and cultural industries at the center of their local development plans and are interested in cooperating at the international level to share knowledge and best practices and develop fruitful partnerships.

Launched in 2004, the UCCN has seen remarkable growth over the years. Today, the network comprises 180 cities from 72 countries all around the world—from Adelaide to Zahlé—and serves as an important partner for UNESCO in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that drive the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UCCN covers seven creative fields, including crafts and folk art, film, design, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music.

 

What are the UCCN’s objectives?

As outlined in its mission statement, the UCCN was created to help fulfill a number of key objectives, including the following:

Cooperation—Because knowledge sharing and partnerships are vital for productive growth, the UCCN aims to promote and strengthen international cooperation among its member cities.

Creative initiatives—The UCCN aims to support and stimulate member cities’ initiatives that emphasize creativity as an essential component of urban development (these initiatives often involve local partnerships between the public and private sectors and civil society).

Cultural production—Cultural activities, goods, and services are an important part of a thriving creative economy. As such, the UCCN aims to strengthen their creation, production, distribution, and dissemination within and beyond member cities.

Opportunity creation—The UCCN aims to develop and support creative and innovative hubs in order to broaden opportunities for cultural sector professionals and creators.

Access—For creative and cultural initiatives to make a true difference to a city’s social fabric, they must be accessible to all residents. A key UCCN objective is therefore to facilitate vulnerable and marginalized populations’ access to and participation in their city’s cultural life.

Integration—The UCCN supports the full and comprehensive integration of culture and creativity into its member cities’ development strategies and plans.

 

 

What actions and initiatives does the UCCN work on?

For maximum impact, the UCCN works to implement its objectives at both the city level and the international level. Particular areas of action the UCCN focuses on include the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and best practices among member cities; the development of pilot projects, partnerships, and initiatives that bring together the public sector, the private sector, and civil society; exchange programs and networks for artists and other creative professionals; research and studies on the experience of member cities and their participation in the network; policy creation for sustainable urban development; and other activities that build awareness of the UCCN and its mission.

 

Why is creativity important for cities?

The UCCN strongly believes that people experience culture and creativity primarily on a local level. Given that cities are, by definition, the principal breeding grounds where cultural and creative industries and emerge and develop, those cities that allow these industries to thrive are working towards a future in which sustainable development supports and enriches the lives of all citizens. Vibrant cultural sectors help to foster social diversity and cohesion, intercultural dialogue, and well-being, all of which are vital to local urban populations, wherever they may be.

 

Why was Bamiyan chosen as a UCCN member city?

Bamiyan, which was chosen in the category of crafts and folk art, has a wealth of cultural assets and knowledge that have developed over millennia, particularly during the city’s time as a hub of trade, cultural exchange, and knowledge sharing in the days of the Silk Road. Today, Bamiyan is widely recognized as a trailblazer in revitalizing traditional crafts and folk art, and it prioritizes creativity and culture as important drivers for urban renewal and social betterment. As a member of the UCCN, Bamiyan’s plans include the establishment of the Bamiyan Cultural Center and the development of an initiative to map the city’s creative industries and to identify the highest-priority needs of local creators. Bamiyan is also supporting cooperative exchanges with other UCCN member cities in the same field and directing efforts to promote the city at the national and international levels as a hub of crafts and folk art.