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BBC News, June 9, 2009

Afghans issue first wildlife list

Afghanistan has published its first list of threatened wildlife that can no longer be hunted or harvested.

The list, compiled by the country's National Environment Protection Agency (Nepa), includes 20 mammal species, seven birds and four plants.

Officials hope to expand the number of protected species to as many as 70 by the end of the year.

The first wave of creatures to receive protection includes snow leopards, wolves and brown bears.

Conservationists hope the new measure will provide legal protection for the nation's wildlife, which has been badly disrupted by more than 30 years of conflict.

Small beginning

Steven Sanderson, chief executive of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which helped compile the initial list, applauded Afghan conservationists' "continued commitment to conserving [their] natural heritage - even during these challenging times".

"WCS believes that conservation can often serve as diplomacy, and we are optimistic that this... will benefit all of Afghanistan's people," he added.

The evaluation of species began in 2008, using the same scientific criteria as the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.

Many of the mammals featured on the list, such as the snow leopard, were under pressure from excessive hunting.

A presidential decree that banned hunting in Afghanistan recently expired, which meant the animals could have been shot and killed legally.

Campaigners hope the list of protected species will offer a legal framework that will allow conservation efforts to become established.

The only amphibian to feature on the list is the Critically Endangered Paghman mountain salamander (Batrachuperus mustersi).

According to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the salamanders are entirely water-dwelling and restricted to three tributaries of the Paghman stream drainage system in eastern Afghanistan.

The cold, fast-flowing water, which the species favours, originates from melting glaciers.

Should the glacial flow dry up, the creatures' habitat will quickly disappear, warn scientists.

Conservationists estimate that fewer than 2,000 of the salamanders remain in the wild.

Nepa officials will be responsible for managing the list, as well as drawing up recovery plans for the featured species.

The list will be re-evaluated every five years to determine whether any of them have recovered enough to be removed from the list.

In April, Afghanistan established its first national park in a spectacular region of deep blue lakes separated by natural dams of travertine, a mineral deposit.

Band-e-Amir is a region visited by thousands of Afghans and pilgrims, though foreign tourism dropped away as violence increased in 1979.

Officials hope that the creation of the park will be another step along to road to recovery for the nation's battered environment.


Photo © Paul S. Hamilton