Plant and animal life

Vegetation is sparse in the southern part of the country, particularly toward the west, where dry regions and sandy deserts predominate. Trees are rare, and only in the rainy season of early spring is the soil covered with flowering grasses and herbs. The plant cover becomes more dense toward the north, where precipitation is more abundant; and at higher altitudes the plants are almost luxuriant, particularly in the mountainous region north of Jalalabad, where the climate is influenced by the monsoons. The high mountains abound in large forest trees, among which conifers, such as pine and fir, predominate. Some of these trees are 180 feet high. The average altitude for the fir line is over 10,000 feet. At lower altitudes, somewhere between 5,500 and 7,200 feet, cedar is abundant; below the fir and cedar lines, oak, walnut, alder, ash, and juniper trees can be found. There are also shrubs, several varieties of roses, honeysuckle, hawthorn, and currant and gooseberry bushes.

Most of the wild animals of the subtropical temperate zone inhabit Afghanistan. Large mammals, formerly abundant, are now greatly reduced in numbers. The Siberian tiger, which inhabited the banks of the Amu River, has all but disappeared, as have the tigers that inhabited the southeastern region. There is still a great variety of wild animals roaming the mountains and foothills, including wolves, foxes, striped hyenas, and jackals. Gazelles, wild dogs, and wild cats, such as snow leopards, are widespread. Wild goats, including the markhor (prized for its long, twisted horns) and the ibex (with long, backward-curving horns), can be found in the Pamirs, and wild sheep, including the urial and argali (or Marco Polo sheep), in the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush. Brown bears are found in the mountains and forests. Smaller animals, such as mongooses, moles, shrews, hedgehogs, bats, and several species of kangaroo rat (jerboas), may be found in the many isolated, sparsely populated areas.

Birds of prey include vultures, which occur in great numbers, and eagles. Migratory birds abound during the spring and fall seasons. There are also many pheasant, quail, cranes, pelicans, snipe, partridge, and crows.

There are many varieties of freshwater fish in the rivers, streams, and lakes, but their numbers are not great except on the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush, where the rivers are well stocked with brown trout.


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