Habiba Sarabi became the first female governor of an Afghan province, the province of Bamiyan in 2005. Bamiyan is one of the poorest of all provinces and the place where the ancient Bamiyan Buddha carvings had stood for 1400 years before the Taliban blew them up in 2001.
Sarabi’s role in snow leopard conservation has been through her fight to establish the 570 square kilometre Band-e-Amir National Park which was declared, with the help of the Wildlife Conservation Society in May 2009.
Snow leopards used to live in this region but it is not known, if after years of active hunting and the war, any remain. However there are still significant numbers of animals that are snow leopard prey, like ibexes (wild goats) and urials (wild sheep), so it is possible that the elusive cat may return to survive here once more.
Today the snow leopard is protected under Afghanistan’s new endangered species list, which was announced shortley after the opening of the National park in June 2009. However illegal snow leopard hunting is still common with a cat caught as recently as March this year.
Sarabi’s conservation credentials include leadership in showing her fellow countrymen and women tourism needs to be in harmony and not exploit landscape and wildlife. Time Magazine acknowledged this role when they nominated her in “Heroes of the Environment in 2008”.
Sarabi wants Bamiyan to lead the way in the development of Afghanistan’s environmental practice, because, she says “I am doing this for the future of my people. They may not understand now why it is so important, but if we can preserve the environment and our natural resources it will bring wealth for our children.”
The six stunningly beautiful lakes in the National park were being impacted by ever more local tourists whose cars parked on the fragile banks and many local developers whose new restaurants were discharging polluted waste water and rubbish into the turquoise waters. Most importantly Sarabi inspired local communities to take an active role and they now decide environmental policies and how to educate their own people as well as tourists.