Spectacular, rugged, barren mountains in the north-east extremity of Afghanistan (the northern side of the Wakhan Corridor) between 3,250 and 6,103 m, with glaciers, glacial lakes and scree slopes. The reserve encompasses a glaciated block of the high Pamirs, within which the valleys of Sargaz, Tulibai, Manjulak and Abakhan drain into the Pamir river to the north (which forms the border with Tajikistan). To the south lies the wide valley of the Wakhan river. A small icefield with associated glaciers is found above 4,600 m. Vegetation is sparse: damp, lower valley bottoms consist of alluvial deposits with overlying peat on which Salix thickets grow; flatter areas by glacial lakes up to 5,000 m support extensive and luxuriant boggy meadows dominated by Carex and Kobresia, growing in hummocks on peaty deposits, whilst dry slopes support a sparse alpine-steppe vegetation up to 4,600 m, and above 4,300 m an alpine-heath zone also occurs. In the 1970s an estimated 75 families used to encamp in the reserve area with c.3,500-4,500 sheep and goats and c.900 yaks and cows during the short summer for grazing.
The precise status and the sizes of populations present are not known. At least 117 species have been recorded from the Afghan Pamir (which has a Tibetan-type avifauna); 75 of these are recorded from the Pamir-i-Buzurg, and probable breeding species among them include Buteo rufinus, Aquila chrysaetos, Gyps himalayensis (possibly, though recorded as G. fulvus), Tetraogallus himalayensis, Bubo bubo, Eremophila alpestris, Motacilla citreola, Prunella himalayana, P. fulvescens, Phoenicurus erythrogaster, Tichodroma muraria, Cinclus cinclus, C. pallasii (possible), Montifringilla nivalis, Carpodacus rubicilla, Leucosticte brandti and L. nemoricola.
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Lynx lynx (rare), Uncia uncia (E), Ursus arctos (rare), Canis lupus (V), Capra ibex sibericus (685 in 1972) and Ovis ammon poli (rare: 750 in the reserve area in the 1970s, out of 2,000+ in the Afghan Pamirs).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Designated as a reserve on account of its population of the endangered sheep Ovis ammon poli, and gazetted as a Wildlife Sanctuary in September 1978. Current on-the-ground protection is presumed to be non-existent. In the 1970s there appeared to be no threats to birdlife due to the remoteness of the area and the low human population density. The reserve area does not extend to cover the Anser indicus breeding colonies at Zor Kol (see site 004), leaving these highly sensitive sites vulnerable and without any protection. Hunting tours were allowed in the 1970s and uncontrolled hunting of wild ungulates may have occurred in recent years. The remoteness of the region prevents mass tourism but there is potential for trekking tours to develop in the future. The site was recommended for designation as a National Park and natural World Heritage Site in the 1970s (Petocz 1978, Sayer and von der Zon 1981).
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Big Pamir. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 17/01/2022.