From Buffer Zone to National Park: Afghanistan’s Wakhan National Park
On March 30th, 2014, Afghanistan declared the Wakhan Corridor as its second national park. At over 10,000 km2, the park is larger than Yellowstone National Park in the USA. It is high country, ranging from 2500 meters at its west end, to a mountain pass to China at 5000 meters in the east, and peaks of 7000 meters along its southern border. Despite its elevation, the Wakhan National Park is home to iconic wildlife species such as Marco Polo sheep and the snow leopards. It is also home to some 17,000 people. The Wakhan has had a long journey from geopolitical buffer zone to national park, a journey that is not yet complete. It became defined as a specific region during The Great Game of the nineteenth century between the two great empires of the age: Tsarist Russia, and the British Raj in India. The great powers wanted a buffer zone between them, an effort to keep their competition from accidentally spilling over into war. Neither the British, the Russians, nor the Afghan Emir could have known that in the twenty-first century, this buffer zone would come to be valued for its natural capital. While there were ceremonies to declare the park in 2014, it is not yet clear how the park will be managed. The park faces many challenges, but has great potential to preserve rare mountain habitats for the people who live there, and the world beyond its borders.
The authors would like to thank the Wildlife Conservation Society for providing us with opportunities to work for conservation in Afghanistan, and the entire WCS Afghan Team for their dedication to protecting the Afghan environment. We would especially like to thank Stephane Ostrowski for his comments on an earlier draft and Qais Sahar for assistance in locating suitable photos. Finally, we thank Holden Taylor and Amanda Waggoner of the University of Richmond’s Spatial Analysis Lab for assistance in preparing the maps in this chapter, and Samantha Guss, University of Richmond Librarian for finding the political cartoon in Fig. 10.2.
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