9 Interesting Animals Native to Afghanistan

Afghanistan is home to a myriad of animal species, including more than 100 different types of mammal. From snow leopards to Marco Polo sheep, here are some of Afghanistan’s wildlife and the regions they inhabit.

Lynx

The Eurasian lynx is a medium-sized feline that inhabits temperate forests of Afghanistan, living in altitudes of up to 5,500 meters. The lynx is widely distributed throughout Europe and Asia, with an estimated 10,000 individuals left in the wild.

In Central Asia, lynx are found in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Mongolia, Nepal, India and Pakistan. Lynx fossils also have been excavated in the Japanese archipelago.

Eurasian otter

Eurasian otter

The Eurasian otter is a protected species in Afghanistan. Also known as the Old World otter, common otter, or European otter, this semiaquatic mammal is indigenous to parts of Asia and Europe.

Commonly found in coasts and waterways, the Eurasian otter mainly eats fish. Eurasian otters can be extremely territorial. They are considered endangered in some regions, though in others, numbers appear to be recovering.

In winter months, the otters sometimes turn to other food sources. Eurasian otters have been known to eat crustaceans, amphibians, insects, birds, small mammals, and even juvenile beavers.

Asiatic black bear

This medium-sized bear species is characterized by its white chest. Indigenous to regions of Asia, the species is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable.

Asiatic black bears are excellent climbers, and sometimes nest in trees. Every fall, they prepare a den for hibernation, where they remain until the following spring. These dens may be made in holes in the ground, caves, hollow logs, or trees.

Markhor

The markhor is a goat species with very large, corkscrew-shaped horns.

In Afghanistan, the species is found in the mountainous forests of Nuristan and Laghman. The name markhor comes from the Persian mâr meaning serpent, and khor meaning eater, since in ancient folklore the goat species was reputed to kill and eat snakes.

Markhor measure up to 115 centimeters in height and weigh up to 110 kilograms. They are specially adapted to the mountain terrain, growing a thicker, longer coat to keep them warm in the depths of winter.

Long-tailed marmot                                                   

The long-tailed marmot is indigenous to Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India, and China. This large, sturdy rodent has a body length of up to 80 centimeters and can weigh up to 9 kilograms.

Long-tailed marmots form monogamous relationships and live in communities with up to seven adults. The marmots live in burrow systems, hibernating in September and emerging in April or May.

Geoffroy’s bat

This medium-sized bat species has long, woolly fur, and feeds primarily on flies and spiders. Geoffroy’s bat typically inhabits Afghanistan’s grassland and scrubland regions, although it is sometimes found in plantations. These bats often roost in manmade buildings or underground.

Marco Polo sheep

Marco Polo sheep
Image by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard | Flickr

Named after the famous Italian explorer, the Marco Polo sheep is a subspecies of the argali breed. They populate mountainous regions throughout Central Asia. Marco Polo sheep are characterized by their impressive, spiral-shaped horns, which can measure up to 140 cm, making them the longest horns of any sheep species.

The majority of Marco Polo sheep live in the Pamir Mountain region, near the borderlands of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. They survive at elevations of up to 4,800 meters above sea level and generally live in flocks as large as a few dozen.

Snow leopard

Afghanistan’s mountainous regions are estimated to be home to around 200 adult snow leopards today. Despite being notoriously elusive, the snow leopard is listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List. Conservationists estimate the global snow leopard population is less than 10,000 today, a figure predicted to decline.

Snow leopards are indigenous to the Badakhshan Province’s Wakhan District, in eastern Afghanistan. Their characteristic thick fur coat protects them from harsh winters at high altitudes. Snow leopards are solitary animals that are most active at dawn and dusk.

Although the leopards are carnivorous and are accomplished hunters, there are only two recorded instances of snow leopard attacks on humans.

Pallas’ cat

This species of wildcat is much smaller than the snow leopard or lynx. It inhabits the grasslands and high-altitude steppes of Afghanistan and is classified on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened.

With a body length of up to 65 centimeters and weighing up to 4.5 kilograms, the Pallas’ cat is around the same size as a domestic cat. It is a stocky feline, with long, dense fur.

Pallas’ cats are extremely solitary. They feed primarily on small animals like voles, pikas, and gerbils, and sometimes young marmots.

The Pallas’ cat has been legally protected in Afghanistan since 2009, with hunting and trade in the animal illegal throughout the country.

How Afghanaid Makes Life Better in Afghanistan

Afghanaid

For over 35 years, the British humanitarian and development organization Afghanaid has been working to improve the lives of millions of Afghans who are vulnerable and underserved. The organization it maintains a presence in some of Afghanistan’s poorest and most remote communities.

Afghanaid develops and runs programs across a broad range of focus areas, including basic service delivery, livelihood enhancement, emergency assistance, and disaster risk reduction. Through the organization’s community-led approach, ordinary Afghans play an important role in their own development. They have the opportunity to become active participants in shaping not only their own futures, but the future of their country as well.

Afghanaid’s recent and current projects include:

1. Restoring Mine-Contaminated Land

For the past two years, Afghanaid has worked in partnership with the HALO Trust, a charity focused on land mine clearance and mine risk education. Due to the decades of conflict it has experienced, Afghanistan is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries. Many regions are still littered with unexploded ordnance.

This makes life extremely difficult for the 80 percent of Afghans who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. When land cannot be used for crops or grazing because of land mine contamination, whole communities are trapped in poverty and lives are put at risk on a daily basis.

Afghanaid is working to address this issue by coming to areas that the HALO Trust has cleared of mines and unexploded ordnance. It then helps local families rebuild their livelihoods by making good use of their cleared land.

In Samagan and Logar provinces, for example, Afghanaid has provided training in improved agricultural techniques, orchard and greenhouse management, and poultry rearing to nearly 3,000 people. The organization has also supplied the technical assistance and tools needed to transform this previously dangerous land into a valuable, productive resource.

landmine

2. Improving Livestock and Animal Welfare

Most families and households in rural Afghanistan rely on animals, whether for food, transportation, or economic livelihood. Despite this dependence, however, few Afghans have the skills, knowledge, or resources to provide proper care for their animals. In addition, access to experienced veterinarians is rare in remote regions.

As a result, the well-being of many animals is seriously compromised. This negatively impacts both the animals themselves and the people who rely on them.

To help improve animal welfare in rural Afghanistan, Afghanaid recently launched a new partnership with the international equine welfare charity Brooke. This collaborative project will see Afghanaid working in Daykundi province to provide mentorship and specialized training to vets as well as education for farmers regarding the benefits of good animal welfare and the importance of veterinary services.

The organization will also teach farmers critical animal husbandry skills, such as appropriate animal handling, proper housing and feeding, and the identification of diseases. The aim of this initiative is to create a “virtuous cycle” in which improvements to animal welfare lead to greater productivity, which in turn leads to greater prosperity.

3. Responding to Severe Drought

Recent years have seen Afghanistan struggling with severe drought. Because of the resulting water shortage, crop yield has been much lower than usual for the past several seasons. As a result, many rural households have insufficient food for either themselves or their livestock. This has led to significant income reduction and has greatly increased vulnerability to environmental and economic crises.

This devastating situation has left thousands of Afghan families in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. In coordination with the World Food Programme and local partners in Afghanistan, Afghanaid has worked to provide essential food and supplies to nearly 11,000 struggling families in Ghor province, which has been one of the regions hit hardest by drought.

With this assistance, these households can stave off hunger and malnutrition. In addition, they can avoid the negative coping strategies (such as selling off livestock at a very low price) that are unfortunately common in these extreme situations.

drought

4. Promoting Sustainable Use of Natural Resources

When Afghan families in rural areas need food, water, fuel, medicine, and construction materials, they often turn to the forests, rangelands, and rivers that surround them. However, over the years, a lack of proper regulation and oversight of these resources has led to severe depletion and deterioration of many of these natural systems.

Today, the strain on Afghanistan’s natural ecosystems is even further exacerbated by increasing pressure from rapid population growth, rising land prices, climate change, and recurring natural disasters. This is not only problematic from an environmental point of view, but a social one as well. Resource scarcity is often a significant factor in ethnic, political, and regional conflicts.

To help transform scarce natural resources into sustainable assets, Afghanaid is embarking on a major four-year project in collaboration with the Liaison Office, an Afghan NGO, with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Taking place in Daykundi province, the project will support 4,500 rural families as they learn to more effectively manage the natural resources they depend on.

A key element of the initiative will be the creation and training of local rangeland management associations. This will help communities work together to manage rangelands in a way that is equitable, inclusive, and sustainable.

A Look at the Future of the Bamiyan World Heritage Site

As one of Afghanistan’s two official World Heritage Sites, the Bamiyan Valley contains cultural and archaeological remains which make it a treasure to be safeguarded. Unfortunately, the site’s most famous cultural asset—the two colossal Buddha sculptures carved into the cliffs of the valley—was destroyed in 2001.

However, many efforts have been made since that time to preserve other aspects of the site. Today, an extensive rehabilitation plan, which includes the creation of a brand new cultural center, is currently in development.

The Site Remains Vulnerable

Despite these positive steps forward, the Bamiyan Valley remains vulnerable to threats such as environmental damage and security risks. This has resulted in its inclusion on a number of “at risk” lists, notably the list of World Heritage in Danger and the World Monuments Fund’s Watch List. Before the site can be removed from these lists, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

This question of what to do to ensure a safe and protected future for the Bamiyan Valley was the central focus of a recent three-day technical meeting. The event was organized jointly by UNESCO, the government of Afghanistan, and several other international partners. It was financially supported by the government of Japan.

Image by Johannes Zielcke | Flickr

International Efforts to Reinvigorate the Site

Held in December 2018, the meeting brought national and international experts together in Salah, Oman. The result was three productive days of dialogue and strategizing about the future of the Bamiyan World Heritage site.

Meeting participants also went on field visits to several Omani heritage properties, including the Land of Frankincense World Heritage site and the Al Baleed and Khor Rohri museums and interpretation centers. The purpose of these visits was to draw inspiration from these models and explore the elements of their management and operation plans that could be applicable to Bamiyan.

At the meeting, specific topics of discussion included:

The Current Status of the Bamiyan World Heritage Property

To improve communication and access to information, the meeting proposed that all of the technical information about the Bamiyan site (produced by UNESCO and other agencies and experts) be centralized into a single system. This could then be shared by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture in order to facilitate better coordination among different stakeholders.

Such a system would make coordination around particular issues, such as illegal construction and land acquisition within the World Heritage property zone, much easier to implement. The meeting also recommended the establishment of a management plan and a relevant governance system for Bamiyan. Finally, conducting an inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage that could then be integrated into national and local government databases was recommended.

Sustainable Development of the Bamiyan Valley

Much of the discussion on this topic focused on a few particular elements of a previously-created Bamiyan Strategic Master Plan, notably the traffic plan component and a bypass road. These developments are an important part of improving access to the site and increasing the quality of life for the local community.

In order to ensure that development will not interfere with future preservation and rehabilitation efforts, the meeting recommended that further technical, geological, and economic feasibility studies be undertaken. The meeting also stressed that future development plans in Bamiyan should be based on accurate GIS-based cultural mapping information, rather than on previous maps which are now outdated, but still occasionally in use.

Potential Rehabilitation of the Eastern Buddha Statue

At an earlier UNESCO meeting (held in Tokyo in September 2017), four technical proposals for the rehabilitation of one of the destroyed Buddha statues were presented. At the Oman meeting, participants supported the authorities’ decision to further investigate the suitability of these proposals. In the meantime, emphasis was placed on the importance of properly preserving the existing fragments of the Buddha.

Image by Regional Command East | Flickr

Opportunities and Challenges of Bamiyan Site Management

The meeting first recognized the recent efforts made by the government of Afghanistan to revise its 2004 National Law for the Protection of Cultural and Historical Properties to incorporate best practices based on international cultural conventions. The recommendation was made to accelerate the adoption of this revised law as well as to implement further regulations and guidelines as necessary to support the protection and promotion of Bamiyan.

There was also further discussion about how best to secure the proper financial and human resources to manage the site, and to implement proposed initiatives such as a museum and an archaeological park. Meeting participants encouraged the Afghan government to promote further outreach activities for an enhanced interpretation of the World Heritage site.

Donor Initiatives in Bamiyan

The Bamiyan World Heritage site, and its related preservation efforts and development activities, has received strong financial support from a wide variety of international donors. The meeting recognized and acknowledged the generosity of these donors.

The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation was a supporter of the project “Preservation and Promotion of the Bamiyan Valley through Culture-Oriented Sustainable Development.” The government of Japan was also recognized.

Featured Image by Johannes Zielcke | Flickr