The Snow Leopard Project
And Other Adventures in Warzone Conservation
By Alex Dehgan
A remarkable story of a scientist's heroic efforts to save and preserve Afghanistan's wildlife surrounded by danger and destruction offers a unique portrait of a culture that derives immense pride and a sense of national identity from its natural landscape.
Post-war Afghanistan is fragile, volatile, and perilous. It is also a place of extraordinary beauty. Evolutionary biologist Alex Deghan came to Afghanistan and created a startup, Conservation X Labs, to save Afghanistan's unique and extraordinary wildlife and natural landscape after decades of war. His workplace was so remote that roads themselves would disappear, and travel was by foot, yak, or mule, following ancient pathways for weeks into the mountain kingdoms and desolate landscapes.
Conservation, it turned out, provided a common bond between Alex's team and the people of Afghanistan, where his international team worked unarmed in some of the most dangerous places in the country. They successfully built the country's first national park, completed the first wildlife survey in thirty years, and worked to stop the poaching of the country's iconic endangered animals, including the elusive snow leopard. In doing so, they restored a part of Afghan identity that is ineffably tied to the land itself. For a people who had spent decades as refugees or subject to the horrors and desolation of war, the quest to restore Afghanistan's wildlife became the restoration of Afghanistan's very culture and deep history.
Alex Deghan is the founder and CEO of Conservation X Labs, which is focused on transforming the field of conservation through technological and financial innovation. Previously, he was USAID's first chief scientist in twenty years, and ensured that USAID became the global leader on employing science, technology, and creativity to help solve development challenges. Prior to his tenure at USAID, he worked at the Department of State on science diplomacy under Ambassador Dennis Ross, and later under Ambassador Holbrooke and the Office of the Special Representative to the President for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was the William Rainey Harper Fellow for the Biological Sciences Division at the University of Chicago, and was granted a Searle Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship among twenty-one other awards, fellowships, and grants he has received during the tenure of his career. He currently teaches at Duke University. He has worked and traveled in almost ninety countries across five continents.
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- Publication date:
28 Feb 2019
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