BAMYAN - Afghanistan's first national park in Band-e-Amir, is already attracting 2,000 visitors each weekend, three years before it even becomes official
Afghanistan's first national park must wait three years before it is officially recognized, but it is already proving popular with locals who flock to the area on summer weekends.
Situated at Band-e-Amir, near the Bamyan Valley and west of the capital Kabul, the area is renowned for a series of six deep-blue lakes surrounded by steep, rugged cliffs. Although much of the park's wildlife has been lost, recent surveys have revealed a healthy population of ibex, wolves, foxes and Afghan snow finches.
Speaking to The Independent, a Wildlife Conservation Society field officer working in the area, David Bradfield, attributed the increase in visitors to Bamyan's classification as a 'safe' province.
"Visitors are already on the increase and possible revenue-generation opportunities – from jobs to accommodation and park-entrance fees – are becoming more feasible," he said.
Recent funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Afghanistan government have allowed the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop the park's management plan, train local rangers and win over the locals.
"We integrate as much as we can in village life, building relationships slowly but surely," added Bradfield. "In general, wildlife is on borrowed time, due to hunting pressure and habitat loss. As a result, it is vital to get the local villagers to buy into the promise of eco-tourism to help protect the area."
The WCS is currently undertaking a camera-trapping survey to confirm the existence of Common Persian leopards rumored to live in the more remote mountains of the proposed National Park. (Agencies)