World's Largest Sheep Are "Icons" of Threatened Region, Naturalist Says

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
March 7, 2006

Deep in the rugged mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, George Schaller has been counting sheep.

The animals he's counting are the largest sheep on Earth—the curly-horned Marco Polo sheep.

Decades of war in this region have left both people and wildlife in turmoil. The last survey of Marco Polo sheep in Afghanistan's Pamir Mountains was conducted in 1973.

"This is an ecosystem that has received very little attention," Schaller, a biologist with the New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said from his Connecticut home.

That is something the naturalist, whose career spans half a century, is working to change.

The sheep census is part of a broader effort by the 72-year-old Schaller to put the remote mountain region back on the conservation map.

His ambitious project calls for an international peace park to be created where four countries meet in the Pamir Mountains of southwestern Asia.

The park would stretch along the Wakhan Corridor, a strip of Afghanistan that runs for 190 miles (305 kilometers) bewteen Tajikistan, Pakistan, and China. (map)

"The Marco Polo sheep can be used as a symbol, an icon, to help protect this beautiful and neglected part of the world," Schaller said.

"Indiscriminate Hunting"

If anyone can help make such a park a reality, it's Schaller.

Three decades ago he convinced Pakistan's then-president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to establish the Khunjerab National Park on the southern edge of the Wakhan Corridor.

Continued on Next Page >>




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