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Location Afghanistan, Ghazni
Central coordinates 67o 55.00' East  32o 30.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4iii
Area 27,000 ha
Altitude 2,100 m
Year of IBA assessment 1994

Site description A large, very shallow, alkaline lake situated on a gently rolling plateau at the foot of the Kohe Baba and Kohe Paghman ranges in south-east Afghanistan, c.130 km south of Ghazni, at 2,100 m. The following description is based on observations in the 1970s. The lake's size varied considerably from year to year, being recharged mainly by snow-melt water flow once per year in spring, when it was most extensive (usually c.16 km at the widest point, and up to c.13,000 ha). Summers are very hot and winters very cold: the lake shrank through evaporation during the summer, in some years becoming completely dry by October, but in other years water lasted through the winter, although often freezing apart from a few tiny pools. Extensive mudflats surrounded the lake, extending for 7 km on the east side but only 0.5 km on the west; normally three islands were visible. The lake was fed by a river entering in the north-east and formed by a confluence of the Gardez, Ghazni and Nahara rivers. Extensive semi-desert steppe surrounded the lake and mudflats; characteristic shrubs were Amygdalus, Cousinia, Artemisia and Tamarix. Carex predominated in a small marsh at the river mouth in the north-east corner, but otherwise there was little plant life in the lake proper or on the mudflats, apart from Ruppia. There were no fish in the lake. There were 2,500 people in 15 villages within 10 km of the lake area, concentrated 8 km to the north-east, as well as c.200-300 semi-nomadic people living in the area, with traditional grazing rights for their livestock on the plains. Following a survey in November 1993, the following changes are apparent. Average water levels are higher than in past years, and the water is fresher, due apparently to much water being released from the Band-i-Sardeh dam upstream by local Mujahideen commanders. Fish now occur in the lake. Most villagers left as refugees during the war, but the semi-nomadic people remained. The site is important archaeologically, having several early dwelling mounds and accompanying artefacts. Roads to the area are usually not passable in winter.

Key Biodiversity A very important wetland for migrating waterfowl and Grus leucogeranus in particular, as well as for breeding Phoenicopterus ruber. The whole of the tiny, remaining 'central' of the three known breeding populations of G. leucogeranus depends on the site as a key 're-fuelling' area whilst on spring migration en route between the Ganges plain in India and Siberia; the species almost certainly uses the site on autumn passage in some years as well, since there is a record of 3 birds in December 1970, although a one-month survey in November 1993 did not locate the species. Since at least the late 1960s, numbers have been declining steadily (e.g. max. 76 at Ab-i-Istada in March 1970, compared to only 5 in India in winter 1992/3), with uncontrolled crane-hunting in Pakistan and Afghanistan being the prime suspect for the decline. P. ruber breeds on the islands: 2,900-9,000 birds were present in the three springs of 1969, 1970 and 1974 (an average of c.5,700 birds) but the colony fluctuates markedly in size and in many years no breeding takes place; when conditions are unsuitable the birds shift to Dashte Nawar (see site 013), where breeding was more frequent than at Ab-i-Istada during 1966-1975. Other breeding species include Tadorna tadorna (100 pairs), Recurvirostra avosetta, Charadrius alexandrinus, C. leschenaultii and Larus genei (100+ birds, June). Large numbers of waterfowl occur on spring passage (when water levels are highest), and several thousand ducks can be present in winter in years of high spring-melt water flow and if the lake does not freeze over; other winter counts include Recurvirostra avosetta (285). Over 60 bird species have been recorded. The site was listed as a wetland of international importance by Carp (1980).

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Greylag Goose Anser anser winter  1971  1,457 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Common Pochard Aythya ferina passage  1969-1970  15,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus breeding  1969-1974  5,700-9,000 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea winter  1971  263 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus winter  1971  1,260 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Siberian Crane Leucogeranus leucogeranus passage  1970-1977  56-76 individuals  good  A1, A4i  Critically Endangered 
Himantopus himantopus passage  1966-1970  2,500-9,999 individuals  poor  A4i  Not Recognised 
Charadrius alexandrinus breeding  1965-1966  400-800 breeding pairs  poor  A4i  Not Recognised 
Sterna nilotica passage  1969-1970  580 individuals  medium  A4i  Not Recognised 
Slender-billed Gull Larus genei breeding  1965-1972  1,000-2,499 adults only  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds passage  1969-1970  18,843-35,552 individuals  medium  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

1994 high near favourable low
Medium - based upon reliable but incomplete / partially representative data

Agricultural expansion and intensification livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - small-holder grazing, ranching or farming happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Human intrusions and disturbance war, civil unrest and military exercises past (and unlikely to return) and no longer limiting whole area/population (>90%) moderate to rapid deterioration low
Over-exploitation, persecution and control of species direct mortality of trigger species - hunting and trapping happening now some of area/population (10-49%) very rapid to severe deterioration high

Wetlands (inland) Standing brackish & salt water  0 0 good (> 90%) moderate (70-90%) near favourable

Phoenicopterus roseus Greater Flamingo 5700 5700 individuals 100 favourable
Leucogeranus leucogeranus Siberian Crane 76 5 individuals 7 not assessed

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A management plan exists but it is out of date or not comprehensive  Very little or no conservation action taking place  low 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Ab-i-Estada Waterfowl Sanctuary 27,000 protected area contained by site 27,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Desert Desert & semi-desert - clay; Desert & semi-desert - salty  major
Grassland Alpine, subalpine & boreal  major
Wetlands (inland) Rivers & streams; Standing brackish & salt water; Temporary water bodies; Water-fringe vegetation  48%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
rangeland/pastureland major
Notes: Agric/cultiv/Rangeland: Primarily rangeland
military minor
hunting minor
nature conservation and research 100%

Acknowledgements A total of 16 IBAs have been identified in Afghanistan. Responsibility for maintenance and update of the IBA information in WBDB is held by BirdLife Secretariat. The baseline survey of IBAs took place during 1991-1993 and was published in Evans (1994). The site accounts and introduction were compiled from information supplied by S. C. Madge, who acknowledges the impressive series of detailed reports compiled principally by Dr R. G. Petocz and Dr J. A. Sayer, team leaders of the National Parks and Wildlife Management Project, which was initiated at the request of the Government of Afghanistan and administered by the Food and Agriculture Organization under the United Nations Development Programme, and which ran from 1972 to 1980, although most ornithological data were collected in the latter years. Waterfowl counts are based mostly on data collected for the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, chiefly by F. J. Koning, during brief winter and early spring visits in 1970–1972. A. Jamil carried out a survey of Ab-i-Istada for this project, with invaluable assistance from A. Fitzherbert and J. Harris (International Crane Foundation). E. Smith supplied valuable information for the site accounts, and Dr K. Habibi reviewed the first draft of the inventory.

References Carp (1980), Jamil (1994), Petocz and Habibi (1975), Shank and Rodenburg (1977).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Ab-i-Istada. Downloaded from on 28/11/2014

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