Afghan Protection for Rare Warbler

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Afghan Protection for Rare Warbler

By Ben Farmer on Telegraph.co.uk

Afghanistan's Environmental Protection Agency has now added the warbler to its protected species list, which was established last year....Mustafa Zahir, director-general and a grandson of the late king, said: "It is not true that our country is full of only bad stories."

The large-billed reed warbler had been called the world's least-known bird after being documented only twice.

The khaki-coloured bird was first discovered in India in 1867, but disappeared until another was sighted near a Thai sewage plant in 2006.

An ornithologist then unwittingly recorded the bird's song in 2008 while surveying species in Afghanistan's remote north-eastern Wakhan Corridor.

When the song was analysed, Robert Timmins realised he had found the elusive warbler and returned with colleagues to catch and study 20 specimens last year.

Afghanistan's Environmental Protection Agency has now added the warbler to its protected species list, which was established last year.

Mustafa Zahir, director-general and a grandson of the late king, said: "It is not true that our country is full of only bad stories.

"This bird, after so many years, has been discovered here. Everyone thought it was extinct." The Wakhan Corridor of the Pamir Mountains is a finger-shaped protuberance of Afghan territory wedged between Pakistan, China and Tajikistan.

Created as a strategic buffer between the British and Russian empires as they competed for Central Asia during the 19th century, the rugged corridor is now a haven for wildlife and home to snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and ibex.

Mr Timmins of the Wildlife Conservation Society, heard the warbler's distinctive song in the corridor in 2008, but assumed them to be Blyth's reed warblers.

He realised they were a different species after seeing skins in the Natural History Museum in Tring and a warbler expert suggested they could be the long-lost large-billed variety.

On returning to the Wakhan, he played the taped birdsong and attracted dozens of specimens for examination.

A total of 48 species including the snow leopard, wolf and brown bear now appear on the protected list. However hunters and trappers still illegally sell snow leopard pelts for up to £1,000.