Afghanistan,

The Female Ranger

In Band-e-Amir, one park ranger suits up to protect the wildlife

Writer

Abbas Naderi

Photographer

Mariam Alimi

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‘This is our daily work. We walk many kilometres in the snow – it’s our duty,’ says Sediqa Hoseini. The 24-year old is one of the female rangers that regularly patrol Band-e-Amir, the first declared national park in Afghanistan.

Snow covers her socks and shoes as she begins to warm herself in front of a heater in the park’s office. A mother of two, she shares the details of her daily routine – a balance of family life and work.

Protecting this area in the winter is very hard, but perhaps it’s when we’re needed the most

‘At five in the morning, I wake up and clean my home. Then I milk the cow and make breakfast for my family. At seven o’clock I go on duty,’ she says. ‘By five in the afternoon I’m back at home, making dinner for my children and my husband.’

There are six lakes in Band-e-Amir, which freeze over in the winter months as more than 30 centimetres of snow falls across the rocky plateau. Visitors often find themselves walking across large slabs of ice and for rangers like Hoseini, it makes travelling over ice for many kilometres every day a tough job.    

‘I like my job. I’m originally from Band-e-Amir, so I get to help protect the area and not let people destroy it,’ Hoseini says. ‘Since I’ve had this position, I’ve learnt so many new things and I’ve become acquainted with so many people.’

Hoseini has a right to feel protective. Band-e-Amir is the country’s only national park and houses a number of natural sites, most famously its blue lakes that rest below towering pink limestone walls, dams made of travertine and deep valleys.

Band-e-Amir has been an officially protected area since 2009. Two years ago, the local government of Bamyan – the nearest city 75 kilometres southeast to the park – decided to recruit four permanent female rangers to help protect the area, teach children about conservation and guide female tourists.

‘Protecting this area in the winter is very hard, but perhaps it’s when we’re needed the most,’ says Hoseini, who lists the hunters and poachers who come to shoot local wildlife as the biggest threats to the park, as well as those who come to cut down its trees. Before Band-e-Amir was granted national park status, its lands were hardly regulated. Years of harmful fishing practices – one method involved hand grenades being thrown into lakes – overgrazing and overhunting has devastated the park’s ecosystem. The disappearance of  the native snow leopard is one of the greatest blows.   

Band-e-Amir is one of the coldest places in the Bamyan province, and stretches 570 square kilometres across Afghanistan through the Hindu Kush, a mountain range that extends from central Afghanistan to northern Pakistan. During the depths of its long winters, typically lasting four to five months, the temperature at night often drops to minus 35 degrees Celsius. As well as the four female rangers, there are six male rangers working across the area, who find the winter equally as tough.

Haji Zaher is one of the male rangers of Band-e-Amir. ‘Only a few tourists come to Band-e-Amir in winter. Instead it’s mostly hunters of birds, fish and deer from other districts in Afghanistan who come to the park. We pretty much work 24 hours per day to prevent hunting, or people cutting down the trees to use for their winter fuel,’ Zaher explains, emphasising how large the area is, and how he often covers over 20 kilometres of terrain every working day. ‘Band-e-Amir has more than 400 type of birds – it’s so important to protect them.’

The ranger is impressed by his female colleagues, who he says approach their park duties with the same stamina and attentiveness as their male counterparts. ‘We’re very happy to work with the women. Afghan society is very traditional, so men cannot talk easily with women. The female rangers make our job easier as they can talk to the female tourists, as well as guide them and prevent destroying the area,’ he says.

The southern area of Afghanistan is often highly conservative and throughout the country, women make up only 16 percent of the Afghan workforce.  In contrast, women in Bamyan historically have more access to education and athletics. There are female members of staff at the local government offices and, in 2005, the province marked a nationwide milestone when Habiba Sorabi was appointed governor of Bamyan – the first female governor in Afghanistan. According to the latest statistics from the city’s education department, women also make up 43 percent of the province’s student population. Every year, female skiers compete in local tournaments, like the Afghan Ski Challenge, and there are cycling and running competitions.

The female rangers, therefore, are not such an unusual sight. ‘It’s important to me to help improve the economy of my family, and I like to stand on my own two feet,’ Hoseini says, explaining how her family is supportive of her work. Though, she’d like to see the local authorities invest more in the rangers’ equipment, skillset and salary for the sake of the future of the park.

In the past, Bamyan was a well-known spot for tourists – especially in its heyday during the 1960s and 1970s, when hippies retracing the former Silk Road used it as a hop-off point. Today, the spaces once occupied by statues carved in the mountainsides have been hollowed – a result of turmoil hitting the region in 2001. And although the road between Bamyan and Kabul is currently closed, work continues as usual at Band-e-Amir.

Once the winter months draw to a close, summer provides much easier conditions for the park’s rangers. ‘It’s the best time of the year,’ says Fatima Mousavi, Hoseini’s colleague. ‘The lakes become almost too blue during the summer – it makes you feel full of energy.’

This article appears in the issue56 Buy Now