Marco Polo sheep threatened by Tajik hunters
BADAKHSHAN (PAN): Although the hunting of Marco Polo sheephas been reduced by 99 percent in recent years, the species remains under threat by Tajik hunters in the northeastern province of Badakhshan.
The Pamir region is known as the “roof of the world.” It’s very name conjures images of soaring mountains and the iconic wildlife of the region, Marco Polo sheep.
This species of sheep are found only in the Pamir Mountains spanning the border region shared by Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and China, and are one of the few wild animals to be found in the formidable terrain. Once abundant in the region, their population has dwindled as the result of three decades of relentless hunting.
A report issued by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 2007 estimated that over 200 Marco Polo sheep remained in the Big Pamir region of northeastern Afghanistan, down from an estimated 500 in the 1980s.
As those statistics suggest, Marco Polo sheep were at serious risk during the war period, Ghulam Nabi Sarfiraz, head of the environmental protection department in Badakhshan, told Pajhwok Afghan News.
"Hunters hunted the sheep because of their delicious meat and beautiful skin," he said.
Marco Polo sheep are also renowned as the largest species of sheep in the world, with the longest horns. They average one meter in height, weigh 120 to 130 kilograms, and grow horns that are up to 140 to 160 centimeters long.
Sarfiraz added that hunting of the sheep has been reduced by 99 percent in the last four years due to the efforts of the environmental protection department, security officials, local residents, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Without a doubt, he said, the number of Marco Polo sheeps in the area has increased remarkably.
According to Anthony Sims, the head of WCS, the organization has trained 50 local residents in the Wakhan district of the Pamir region to help protect the wildlife. They have also installed cameras to monitor the population of the area over the course of a month.
Meanwhile the environmental protection chief of the province is concern about the relentless pursuit of Marco Polo sheep by Tajikistani hunters on the other side of the border, in the Murghab area of Tajikstan.
According to people in the Pamir Mountains of Badakshan, Marco Polo sheeps migrate into Tajikistan for grazing when heavy snows fall in the Pamir Mountains during winter. There, they are hunted by the Tajik people.
The increases in population of domestic livestock in the area also create problems for the wild sheep, because their grazing areas are limited, Sarfiraz said.
The number of domestic livestock in Wakhan district was nine thousand in 1971, but now there are about thirty thousand domestic animals, he said.
A resident of the area said that one Afghan hunter, Mohammad Asif in the Anjum area of Kran district, hunted 300 sheeps in a single month in 2003.
The resident said that in addition to daily usage, people were using the meat of Marco Polo sheeps for weddings and mourning ceremonies. But in the last four years, the hunting tradition has been reduced, officials said.
Aside from the Marco Polo sheep, several types of rare birds are also unique to the Pamir Mountains, said Sims, the WCS chief.
In 2010, WCS invited a group of wildlife experts to Badakhshan. Sims said the research team discovered 20 types of Nightingales there, the rarest birds in the world.
WCS is an American organization that assists in wildlife conservation in 60 countries, and has been active in the Pamir area of Badakhshan province for the last four years.
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