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Afghanistan protects newly rediscovered rare bird

Mustafa Zahir, director-general of Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency, shows a photo of a rare bird during a news conference in Kabul on Sunday.

Associated Press

Mustafa Zahir, director-general of Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency, shows a photo of a rare bird during a news conference in Kabul on Sunday.

KABUL — Afghanistan's fledging conservation agency moved Sunday to protect one of the world's rarest birds after the species was rediscovered in the war-ravaged country's northeast.

The remote Pamir Mountains are the only known breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler, a species so elusive that it had been documented only twice before in more than a century.

A researcher with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society stumbled upon the tiny, olive-brown bird during a wildlife survey in 2008 and taped its distinctive song. Later, a research team caught and released 20 of the birds — the largest number ever recorded.

On Sunday, Afghanistan's National Environment Protection Agency added the large-billed reed warbler to its list of protected species, which was established only last year.

Mustafa Zahir, the agency's director-general, acknowledged the difficulties of trying to protect wildlife in a country preoccupied with the Taliban insurgency. But Zahir said the discovery of the large-billed reed warbler provided some welcome positive news.

"It is not true that our country is full of only bad stories," Zahir said. "This bird, after so many years, has been discovered here."

The bird's discovery in Afghanistan kicked off a small flurry in conservation circles.

The large-billed reed warbler was first documented in India in 1867 but wasn't found again until 2006 — a single bird in Thailand.

The Afghan environmental agency also added 14 other species to the protected list on Sunday. It now has 48 species, including the rare snow leopard, the Asiatic cheetah and the markhor, a type of wild goat with large spiral horns.

While conservation efforts are in their infancy in Afghanistan, there have been some recent successes. Authorities in Badakhshan last week seized a snow leopard from villagers who had trapped it and planned to sell it. The snow leopard — one of an estimated 150 left in the wild — will be freed once its injuries from the trap are healed, Zahir said.

Developments

• More than 2,000 U.S. Marines and about 1,000 Afghan troops who stormed the Taliban town of Marja as part of a major NATO offensive against a resurgent Taliban will stay several months to ensure insurgents don't return, Marine commanders said Sunday. It's part of NATO's "clear, hold, build" strategy, which calls for troops to secure the area, restore a civilian Afghan administration and bring in aid and public services to win the support of the population.

• Eleven members of one family were killed in southern Helmand province when their tractor, with a truck-bed hitched to the back, hit a roadside bomb, provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said. All aboard, including two women and two children, died.

Afghanistan protects newly rediscovered rare bird 02/28/10 [Last modified: Sunday, February 28, 2010 10:20pm]

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