FAIZABAD, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's mountainous northeastern province of Badakhshan, home to a plethora of rare and nearly extinct animals, is seeing an increase in illegal bird hunting despite a ban on such practices to preserve the region’s rich biodiversity.
Environmental officials in Badakhshan say uncontrolled hunting of wild and rare birds has substantially increased in the remote province, threatening several key species and pushing some toward complete extinction.
Rohullah has been a shopkeeper in the bazaar of the old city of Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan, for 12 years. Besides selling the usual fruits and vegetables in the winter season, he also sells partridges and pheasants.
“People in the area hunt wild birds, and we buy from them,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We sell birds for four months from November to February,” he added. “Our customers are often rich because poor people cannot afford to buy game meat.”
He makes $1 or $2 in profit from selling a partridge, which he typically buys for $3. Local varieties of pheasants are more expensive because of their prized meat and cost him some $15 per bird, which leaves him a greater profit margin.
The sharp rise in wild bird hunting has raised concerns among officials in Badakhshan. Shabir Ahmad Malekzadah, the provincial head of the National Environment Protection Agency, says markets in both Badakhshan and in the Afghan capital, Kabul, are filled with the hides of rare and endangered animals.
“We are very concerned about the continuation and rise in hunting,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “In the market today, you can see that all kinds of endangered species are being sold,” he added. “They are killed by hunters, who include amateur hunters with no hunting licenses and even members of the government forces.”
Badakhshan police spokesman Sanaullah Rouhani also noticed the ongoing increase in bird hunting and underlined the need for robust government measures to curb such practices.
“With the arrival of winter, some people have begun hunting the birds in great numbers,” he noted. “But like last year, a commission of relevant institutions will be established to curb illegal hunting,” he said. “Those violating this ban will no doubt be referred to the courts by this commission.”
Malekzadah says the uncontrolled and unprecedented hunting of birds has caused rare birds such as partridges, pheasants, and eagles to leave Badakhshan completely.
"When our animals and birds are hunted, our rural people witness that some of them perish as a result of the hunt, and others leave the country completely and fly to neighboring countries," he added.
Officials from Badakhshan’s agriculture department say that every year some remote residents of the province are trained and taught not to hunt animals and birds. But Kikaus Shuja, the press officer of the department, says their efforts have so far yielded no significant results.
“Those who hunt think only of their own benefit, and all in all, the continuation of this process has caused serious damage to our birds,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Every year, we launch advertising programs in various areas of Badakhshan to prevent this unwanted practice of animal hunting from thriving.”
The northeastern province is one of the most mountainous provinces of the country and home to rare animals such as snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep, mountain goats, and birds such as eagles, owls, partridges, and pheasants in the heart of the Pamir and Hindu Kush Mountains.
The presence of rare animals in Badakhshan also attracts tourists from across Afghanistan and abroad, making it a destination for those seeking atypical wildlife.
According to the Afghan branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC), an international NGO, Afghanistan hosts a “surprising diversity” of birds with more than 450 species. In 2008, the organization discovered in Badakhshan a breeding population of large-billed reed warblers, which are dubbed the world’s least- known bird. The region is also considered the main habitat for the rare Tibetan snowcock and the Tibetan sandgrouse.