A very large, permanent, shallow, fresh to brackish lake, lying in the Seistan desert in extreme south-west Afghanistan at 500 m, and surrounded by vast Phragmites reedbeds. It derives its waters from the Khashrud river, which is dry in summer but in spring carries meltwater from the central highlands of Afghanistan; formerly the Helmand river was also important but since construction of Kajaki Dam this river has carried little water into the Puzak. The wetland has always been subject to wide fluctuations in size according to variations in rainfall and snowfall in the mountains. About a third of the swampland is in Iran but by far the most permanent wetland is in Afghanistan, where at least formerly the habitat probably never dried out completely, even in the driest years. The wetland is fringed by Tamarix scrub, and surrounding desert is dominated by Artemisia steppe. In the 1970s the human population was relatively small (a total of c.1,000 in several villages).
This is the most important wetland in Afghanistan and of major international importance, estimated to hold up to one million wildfowl in winter. A total of 357,000 birds was counted in January 1976 during an aerial survey organized jointly with the Iranian government: see box for key species. Other wintering species in the 1970s included Tadorna tadorna (211), Circus aeruginosus (51) and Porphyrio porphyrio. Little is known of breeding or passage species as most visits have been in mid-winter; former breeding species included Phoenicopterus ruber, Anser anser, Cygnus olor, Netta rufina (possibly), and currently may still include Picus squamatus flavirostris (although possibly now extinct in Seistan through destruction of trees), Caprimulgus mahrattensis (reported as common by Cumming 1905 but not found subsequently, even by Paludan in 1949) and C. aegyptiacus (probable).
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V) is said to be common. The entire Seistan area is a unique ecosystem, but is very poorly known.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
No formal conservation measures are known to have been taken, and no part of the area is legally protected for nature conservation despite its ecological uniqueness and global importance. Extensive dam-building, water diversion and irrigation schemes in Afghanistan and Iran extract water from the feeder rivers, especially the Helmand, in an unregulated way (contrary to the nature of existing bilateral agreements dating from the previous century) and have reduced the flow of water into the lake. In severe periods of drought, its area can contract alarmingly, although in the drought years of the mid- to late 1980s, when the Iranian wetlands dried out completely, satellite imagery showed that the Afghani sector still remained flooded with vast reedbeds. In addition, according to recent reports from FAO in Islamabad, the exceptional floods of early 1991 destroyed the Kajaki Dam and damaged other irrigation systems on the Helmand in Afghanistan, so for the present there seems to be no problems of water supply in the Helmand river-though there is apparently a proposal to build a new dam in Afghanistan (the Kamal Khan Dam). Phragmites beds are used extensively for fuel, fodder and house and boat construction and are also widely burnt (to encourage regeneration), affecting breeding bird populations. A critical threat in the future may be a proposal (first made in 1976) to construct a paper factory in adjacent Helmand Province which would use reeds from Seistan; the impact of such a scheme on the functioning of the ecosystem is unknown but potentially very severe. In the 1970s wildfowl hunting was uncontrolled but only practised by local people, and was therefore sustainable. Without the creation of protected areas, expansion and commercialization of hunting might pose a major threat however. The site was proposed as a National Park before 1979.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Hamun-i-Puzak. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 17/01/2019.