This story was published in the Hanford Courant and called to our attention by
Professor Richard Benfield:
October 2006- Afghanistan has already seen some of its cultural treasures, such as the
Buddhas of Bamiyan, destroyed by the Taliban. And it has watched as
ancient artifacts have been looted from the country since the U.S.
invasion in 2001.
Now, it's in danger of seeing an endangered species -- the snow leopard
-- hunted into extinction.
High in the Pamir Mountains in northeastern Afghanistan, men like
Attaullah hunt down the animal. He'll not only sell off its valuable
pelt but also the cat's paws, bones and internal organs, which are
highly prized for use in traditional Chinese medicines.
While no one is exactly sure how many of the creatures remain in the
wild, organizations such as the Snow Leopard Conservancy estimate that
between 4,500 and 7,500 remain in 12 countries in Central Asia,
Some of the cats are thought to have been killed by U.S. bombs during
the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. But it's hunters like Ataullah, who
like many Afghans uses only one name, who are the cat's main threat
“Going after a snow leopard is the ultimate for any hunter,'' said
Ataullah, 44. “Sometimes we won't find one for three months. It depends
on the luck of the individual.''
A ban on hunting the animal imposed by President Hamed Karzai appears to
have had little effect so far.
“If the hunting of certain rare animals like the snow leopard ...
continues, they will rapidly be wiped out,'' warned Dost Mohammad Amin,
the deputy head of the Afghan Environment Protection Department.
It's easy to understand why hunters like Ataullah go after their prey.
He said he expects to get $100 for the cat's body parts and an
additional $900 for its pelt. For that kind of money, hunters are
prepared to invest time, money and effort in securing a kill.
“Sometimes we'll wait a month to go after a good specimen, because
valuable animals are scarce and it's very hard to hunt them,'' Attaullah
said. “We start out in July when the roads become clear of snow. We
have special hunting rifles that we've bought in Pakistan and we wait
for the animal we want.''
Attaullah contends that the amount of money he can earn with just one
catch makes it worth the wait. “I caught a snow leopard in the Pamirs
this summer and I'll earn $1,000,'' he said. “I'd never make that
amount by doing anything else.''
When not stalking snow leopards, Attaullah said he goes after Marco Polo
sheep, another endangered species, to put food on his table.
During the 1970s, Marco Polo sheep -- the largest in the world -- were a
favorite trophy of hunters who traveled from all around the world to bag
the animal and display its massive horns on their walls at home.
Today, Attaullah said the sheep will provide his family with several
delicious meals and $200 in cash for its hide.
Attaulah scoffs at the notion of a ban on hunting endangered species.
“This hunting has been going on for thousands of years. If the
population of these animals were in decline, there wouldn't be any
left,'' he insisted. ``It is just an excuse by powerful men who want to
stop us hunting so that they can keep the (game animals) for
Because both species live in largely unpopulated areas, far beyond the
reach of either the central or regional governments, there's not much
officials have been able to do so far to halt the poaching.
There is some hope, however, of protecting the endangered species. Amin
of the environmental ministry said that Afghanistan, Tajikistan and
China met over the summer to discuss the creation of a multinational
game reserve, called the Pamir International Peace Park, to help save
“A conference in Dushanbe held in mid-July decided that all mountain
regions where rare animals live in these three countries will be
declared a Peace Park, and no one will be allowed to enter it,'' Amin
Attaullah doesn't think much of the plan.
“These animals are wild and free,'' he said. ``One day they're in one
place; the next day they're somewhere else. If they feel confined,
they'll become depressed and may leave the area altogether, or they may
pine and die, which is much worse than being hunted.''