Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 16:56 UK

Afghans get first national park

Band-e-Amir national park, Afghanistan - - image courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society
Creating the national park may help promote Band-e-Amir as an international tourist destination

Afghanistan has established its first national park in a spectacular region of deep blue lakes separated by natural dams of travertine, a mineral deposit.

Band-e-Amir is visited by thousands of Afghans and pilgrims, though foreign tourism stalled with the increase in violence since 1979.

Declaring Band-e-Amir a park should help protect its fragile environment.

The new park is near the Bamyan Valley, where 1,500-year-old giant Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taleban.

Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency (Nepa) said the creation of the park would help the region attract international tourism and obtain World Heritage Status.

"The park will draw people from Herat to Kabul to Jalalabad... to be inspired by the great beauty of Afghanistan's first national park, Band-e-Amir, " said Mostapha Zaher, Nepa's director-general.

Hand grenades

In the stillness of the high, thin air, the blue and turquoise waters are often like glass, perfectly reflecting the slopes around them, says the BBC's Alan Johnston, who has visited Band-e-Amir.

However, this quietness may be occasionally punctured by the damaging local practice of fishing by blasting the lake waters with hand grenades, he adds.

Much of the park's wildlife has been lost, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

But recent WCS surveys show it still contains ibex, a species of wild goat, and urial, a type of wild sheep.

Other wildlife include wolves, foxes, smaller mammals and fish, and various bird species including the Afghan snow finch, which is believed to be the only bird found exclusively in Afghanistan.

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