Rare bird joins snow leopards in Afghanistan

January 19, 2010
Photo WCS.

Photo by WCS.

“Researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have discovered for the first time the breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler — dubbed in 2007 as “the world’s least known bird species” — in the remote and rugged Wakhan Corridor of the Pamir Mountains of north-eastern Afghanistan. Situated between the mountainous regions of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, Pakistan, and China, the Wakhan Corridor supports a surprisingly wide range of large mammal species, including Marco Polo sheep (or argali), ibex, lynx, wolf, and the elusive snow leopard.” (Full story here.)

WCS camera trap photo of snow leopard 2009.

When I read this story this week I recalled that in August last year the WCS found evidence of snow leopards in the region too. (Read blog post here.)So what is this Wakhan corridor and why is it still home to rare birds and snow leopards at a time of such massive conflict in this country for the last 30 years?

Turns out (according to Wikipedia) the Wakhan Corridor is a long and slender land corridor along the easternmost section of Afghanistan in the Pamir Mountains. It’s approximately 210 kilometres (100 miles) long and between 20 kilometres (10 miles) and 60 kilometres (40 miles) wide.

It’s named after the Wakhan region of Afghanistan and connects the country to China in the east. It was once part of the Silk Road, the trade route that for hundreds of years connected central Asia with the Mediterranean countries. The Wakhan corridor region only has about 10,000 people and is one of the most peaceful regions in the country today. Both the low population and the fact that it isn’t an active war zone have made it possible for biologists to find this rare bird and snow leopards in the region in recent years. Let’s hope the objective of the WCS to establish a large wildlife protected area here can be pulled off.


George Schaller working magic for snow leopards again

October 8, 2009
George Schaller with snow leopard cub. Photo by WCS.

George Schaller with snow leopard cub. Photo by WCS.

I’ve mentioned George Schaller many times on this blog – Ok, he’s my hero. He’s probably done more for snow leopard conservation than anyone else on the planet. George won the Indianapolis Prize in 2008 and during 2009 used the money  for snow leopard activities in China. Currently Vice President of Panthera and Senior Conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, George visited China’s Qinghai Province in May 2009 to  help initiate snow leopard programs supported by Panthera, an organization whose mission is to conserve the world’s 36 species of wild cats.

The Indianapolis Prize has just reported on George’s work there. Most of his work was conducted in the Sanjiangyuan Reserve (“Source of Three Rivers Reserve”—Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong ), which covers nearly 58,000 square miles, primarily at elevations above 11,800 feet.  In addition to assessing snow leopard presence and threats, the trip provided Peking University Ph.D. student Li Juan with the training she needs to start a snow leopard study this year. George and Juan traveled more than 2,600 miles to evaluate potential study areas for the student’s research project, and George will continue to mentor Juan as she pursues her Ph.D.

While in Asia, George met with representatives from the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui, one of the leading conservation organizations in China , to create a new collaborative snow leopard research and conservation program. These organizations signed a long-term agreement that will bring much needed expertise and funding to efforts to save snow leopards in China , where as much as 50 percent of the remaining wild population exists.

“George Schaller’s extensive research, fieldwork and training have been essential to saving snow leopards in regions of China ,” said Tom McCarthy , Director of Snow Leopard Programs for Panthera. “I can’t think of a better use of the Indianapolis Prize funds than teaching future generations the urgency and necessity of wildlife conservation.”

“The important aspects of this project for me,” added Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, “are its collaborative and long-term nature.  It’s George’s innate ability to bring people together and to forge alliances that overcome the short-term problems of political or geographic conflicts in order to serve the greater good that makes him a hero for me, and for the world.  It seems he has again worked his magic for the snow leopards.”