A recent wildlife survey in Afghanistan has resulted in the rediscovery of the incredibly rare and majestic Bactrian deer (or Cervus elaphus bactrianus) for the first time in over 40 years. This is indeed amazing news, given that researchers had until now thought that the species had gone extinct as a result of years of belligerence and conflict in the region.
According to scientists, the creature was last surveyed back in the 1970s, when as few as 120 individuals were found living in the wild in the Takhar Province. Located in the northeastern part of Afghanistan, near Tajikistan, the region came under the control of Mujahideen leaders during the 1980s, only years after it witnessed the Soviet-Afghan War in the late 1970s. Zalmai Moheb, a conservationist who was part of the survey team, said:
That area was not safe… The Mujahedeen was fighting the Soviet Union . Because of this instability, every household had a gun.
Given the region’s turbulent history, experts had feared that the rare species had become extinct. That is, until 2013 when a team of researchers came across droppings and hoof prints that have since been identified as belonging to the deer. During the expedition, the scientists also spotted a young female deer wandering in the area. The findings of the expedition have only recently been published in the Deer Specialist Group newsletter, managed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Moheb, who is a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, explained:
It was a great feeling. Wow, we’re going to confirm the species here for the first time after 45 years. That will be a big thing for the wildlife in Afghanistan.
At present, conflict between local smugglers and the Mujahideen warlords has resulted in the weaponization of common people, who are increasingly hunting wild animals for food as well as sport. While the exact figure of the Bactrian deer population has not yet been determined, conservationists believe that the animals are likely confined to a 280-sq-km patch of land removed from the rest of the area by the Amu Darya River.
The rare deer species is also found in other countries, including Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. According to scientists, the animal’s global populace has dramatically increase from only around 350 to 400 back in the 1960s to over 1,900 individuals as of 2011. The news is all the more heart-warming in case of Afghanistan, where the creatures seem to have survived years of conflict and even two major wars.