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Afghanistan embraces GIS for wildlife habitat management

US: Afghanistan is prominently using GIS-based maps to identify wildlife habitats to protect and other sensitive areas to conserve, including places such as Band-e-Amir, the country’s first national park, according to Esri.
Afghan government declared Band-e-Amir, one of the most spectacular travertine systems in the world, a national park on Earth Day in 2009. And later on, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), played a strategic role in working with Afghanistan’s citizens and agencies to open the park. WCS used Esri’s ArcGIS to develop sustainable resource management plans for the park and other areas throughout the country. The technology also was used to create a map of biologically significant wetlands and important bird habitats, including proposed protected areas. One of the important bird areas that was identified and mapped was Band-e-Amir.
WCS consulted Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), central and local governments, and communities to brainstorm about issues, develop concepts, and build the country’s capacity to protect and restore the environment. In 2006, WCS worked with a team of local citizens to gather terrain, habitat, and species data for a database; process that data in GIS; and create maps to help them better understand and address the country’s environmental needs.
Muhammad Ayub Alavi, a geologist born in Bamyan Province who works as a WCS conservation specialist in Band-e-Amir, explained, “We are using ArcGIS for Desktop to analyse habitat, ecoregions, and wildlife populations. The government sanctioned us to create the first protected area system plan for the country. GIS shows information that lays the general foundation for our work for the next 25 years, which is outlined in our system plan. We have used it to prioritise the entire country’s surface and designate areas that should be protected.”
To do this, the GIS team developed and ran different types of models to show where goats and large cats live and migrate and the land that Afghanis use for farming and grazing their animals. This helped policy makers and scientists better understand the needs of both humans and the wildlife.
Another prioritizing criterion was the endangerment categories assigned to certain animals that roam Afghanistan. At the top of the list is the Marco Polo sheep (Ovis ammon polii), which is the largest mountain sheep in the world. The snow leopard was also high on the WCS priority list.
WCS used ArcGIS to calculate and rank ecosystems and show these areas on maps. Because the maps were going to be used as the foundation for discussing with stakeholders what areas to conserve, WCS experts also factored in security, logistics, budget, and history.
When government policy makers were presented with these findings, they agreed to implement conservation plans at three major sites. First was the Wakhan Corridor, which is part of the Silk Road network between Afghanistan and China. Second was the Hazarajat Plateau, where Band-e-Amir National Park is located. Third was the Eastern Forest Complex, which contains some of the last temperate coniferous forest in the Greater Himalayan mountain range. It is home to the snow leopard and at least five other wild cat species. GIS was extensively used by researchers to analyze change, classify forest cover, and demonstrate forest degradation in that area.
Source: Esri