Barren, hot, desert-steppe plains lying west of the town of Qala-i-Nau in north-west Afghanistan, rising to rounded barren foothills of the Paropamissus (Safed Koh) range to the south, and bordered by Turkmenistan to the north and Iran to the west. The area is between 500 and 1,000 m above sea-level, and fingers of hills project into the plains from the south. Artemisia steppe predominates on the plains, with Pistacia woodland in the hills; patches of Juniperus occur on hills nearer the Paropamissus. Land is mainly used for grazing; Pistacia woodland provides seasonal income to local people.
The region is little explored but could perhaps produce species which are associated with the deserts of adjacent Turkmenistan. See box for key species; other known or possible breeding species include Accipiter badius, Merops superciliosus, Melanocorypha bimaculata, Calandrella acutirostris, Saxicola caprata and Scotocerca inquieta. Just south of the region around Sabzak Kotal, Certhia himalayana and Parus rufonuchalis breed in Juniperus scrub.
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Equus hemionus onager (V) may wander from reserves over the Turkmen border, and likewise Gazella subgutturosa (rare); even Acinonyx jubatus (V) could still survive.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
No conservation measures have been taken. Overgrazing by livestock, leading to excessive erosion and degradation of soil locally, and uncontrolled hunting are likely to be serious problems. The lack of more detailed information on the state of habitats and on wildlife inventories will inhibit any attempts at protecting areas in the future. The area was proposed as a potential reserve region in 1981.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: North-western steppe. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 22/09/2019.