Ayub Alavi/Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society researchers working on a USAID-funded project in Afghanistan discovered this natural arch in Bamyan Province.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have stumbled upon a geological colossus in a remote corner of Afghanistan: a natural stone arch spanning more than 200 feet across its base. Located in the central highlands of Afghanistan, the recently discovered Hazarchishman Natural Arch is more than 3,000 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest large natural bridges in the world. It also ranks among the largest such structures known.
While implementing USAID’s Improving Livelihoods and Governance through Natural Resource Management Program, WCS researchers Christopher Shank and Ayub Alavi discovered the massive arch in late 2010 while surveying the northern edge of the Bamyan plateau for wildlife. The researchers returned to the natural wonder in February 2011, to measure it. The total span of arch—the measurement by which natural bridges are ranked—is 210.6 feet in width, making it the 12th largest in the world. This finding pushes Utah’s Outlaw Arch in Dinosaur National Monument—smaller than Hazarchishma by more than four feet—to number 13 on the list.
“It’s one of the most spectacular discoveries ever made in this region,” said Joe Walston, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Program. “The arch is emblematic of the natural marvels that still await discovery in Afghanistan.”
The world’s largest natural arch—Fairy Bridge—is located in Guangxi, China, and spans a staggering 400 feet in width. Several of the top 20 largest natural arches are located in the state of Utah in the U.S.
With support from USAID, the government of Afghanistan has launched several initiatives to safeguard the country’s environment and the wildlife it contains. In 2009, the government declared the country’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, approximately 100 kilometers south of Hazarchishma Natural Arch. The park was established with technical assistance from USAID. USAID also worked with Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency to produce the country’s first-ever list of protected species, an action that now bans the hunting of snow leopards, wolves, brown bears, and other species. USAID also works to limit illegal wildlife trade through educational workshops at military bases across Afghanistan.
USAID’s Improving Livelihoods and Governance through Natural Resource Management Program addresses biodiversity conservation issues and improves natural resource management in the Wakhan corridor in Badakhshan Province and the Hazarat plateau in Bamyan Province. USAID is working with more than 55 local communities to build Afghanistan’s capacity to conserve and sustainably manage its natural resources, improve the livelihoods of the rural poor in northeast and central Afghanistan, and strengthen linkages between local communities and regional and national government institutions.
“Afghanistan has taken great strides in initiating programs to preserve the country’s most beautiful wild places, as well as conserve its natural resources,” said Peter Zahler, Deputy Director for the WCS Asia Program. “This newfound marvel adds to the country’s growing list of natural wonders and economic assets.”
The WCS saves wildlife worldwide through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together, these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony.
USAID, through the WCS, is taking an innovative, coordinated approach to protecting fragile upper watersheds in two Afghanistan provinces – Bamyan and Badakhshan – while improving natural resource management and increasing biodiversity at the local and national levels.