April 23, 2009

Afghanistan opens its first national park

The Afghanistan National Environmental Protection Agency says it has established that country's first internationally recognized national park.

The United States Agency for International Development provided key funding for the park's creation, while the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York conducted preliminary wildlife surveys and helped identify and delineate the park's boundaries.

Known as Band-e-Amir, the park will protect one of Afghanistan's best-known natural areas -- a series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit. Travertine systems are found in only a few places around the world, virtually all of which are major international tourist attractions.

At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan, said Steven Sanderson, president and chief executive officer of the WCS. Band-e-Amir will be Afghanistan's first national park and sets the precedent for a future national park system.

Though much of the park's wildlife has been lost, recent surveys indicate it still contains ibex, a species of wild goat, and urial, a type of wild sheep, along with wolves, foxes, smaller mammals, fish and various bird species including the Afghan snow finch, which is believed to be the only bird found exclusively in Afghanistan.