This area forms the eastern tip of the Wakhan Corridor, separating China, Pakistan and Tajikistan and encompassing the valleys of the Aksu and Waghir rivers at 4,000-6,000 m. The Aksu flows east out of Chaqmatin lake and joins the Pamir river in Tajikistan; the Waghir drains the adjoining mountains and eventually flows into the Wakhan river a little further west. The mountains are more smoothly rounded on the Tajikistan border but are more rugged to the south bordering Pakistan and China. The area is surrounded by the impressive barren Pamir mountains and contains the lakes of Zor Kol and Chaqmatin. The northern mountains lack the dramatic glaciers and icefields of the Pamir-i-Buzurg (see site 003) but these are present in the mountains bordering China. Vegetation seems to be similar to that of Pamir-i-Buzurg (see site 003). The people of the Small Pamir are Kirghiz and numbered c.2,000 in the 1970s. Much of the lower part of the area has long been heavily grazed by their livestock. The region is one of the great historical crossroads of Central Asia, with numerous passes to the south into Pakistan.
Zor Kol and Chaqmatin lake are particularly important features ornithologically. The precise status and population sizes of important bird species present in the area are not known. At least 117 species are recorded from the Afghan Pamir, which has a Tibetan-type avifauna, and 65 of these are recorded from the Small Pamir, of which the following breed or probably breed: Tadorna ferruginea, Netta rufina, Mergus merganser, Aquila chrysaetos, Gyps himalayensis (presumably; recorded as G. fulvus), Falco pelegrinoides, Tetraogallus himalayensis, Charadrius mongolus, Columba leuconota, C. rupestris, Bubo bubo, Eremophila alpestris, Motacilla citreola, Prunella himalayana, P. fulvescens, Phoenicurus erythrogaster, Phylloscopus collybita sindianus, Luscinia svecica, Oenanthe deserti, Tichodroma muraria, Cinclus cinclus, Montifringilla nivalis and Leucosticte brandti. The area is a flyway for Grus grus ('hundreds'), and Aquila nipalensis is a passage migrant in unspecified numbers. Although it has been suggested that the last few Indian-wintering Grus leucogeranus may migrate through with G. grus (Petocz 1978), based on local people’s reports of the species in western Nuristan (Petocz and Larsson 1978; see site 007), it seems more likely that the species migrates through the mountains of northern Afghanistan via Salang Kotal (see site 005) given the known pattern of records north of this region (K. Habibi, pers. comm.).
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: the Afghan Pamir is very important for Uncia uncia (E), Capra ibex sibericus and Ovis ammon poli (rare).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
No formal conservation measures have been taken, but there are few threats due to the remoteness of the area and the sparse human population. The most obvious threat to birds is human predation of Anser indicus eggs, which were widely taken by local people in the 1970s. Very heavy grazing and the cutting of Artemisia bushes for fuel has resulted in some degradation of the fragile alpine-steppe vegetation. Hunting tours were allowed in the 1970s and uncontrolled hunting of wild ungulates may have occurred in recent years. The remoteness of the region deters tourism but there is good potential for trekking tours.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Small Pamir. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 12/08/2022.