About This Region

The world’s grasslands encompass a wide variety of climates, vegetation, and animal life. While all grasslands are vast open spaces that receive little (10-30 inches) of rain per year, each region’s grasslands are slightly different. In Afghanistan, because of its North latitude, temperate grasslands, known as steppes, characterize the northern areas of the country. The Russian term designates any region that is too arid to be a forest, yet too wet to be a desert. Steppes have few to no trees, and are distinguished from their American prairie counterpart by the short length of their grasses.

Because of the scorching, dry summers and short, wet, and cold winters of the Afghani steppes, plants and animals that survive in the region have to be tough.
Although most of the soil is infertile, portions of it can be irrigated and transformed into fairly productive farmland. Local populations are able to produce wheat, barley, corn, grapes, melons, cotton and poppies.
Finally, it is important to note that Afghanistan does have a considerable number of oil fields in the northern steppes, many of which are not in use at the moment because of the Afghan war of the 1980’s and more recent conflicts within the country.



The vegetation in the steppes of Afghanistan is composed mainly of grasses and small shrubs. According to National Geographic, the region is home to over 1,100 different species of vascular plants. Most of those plants are dry and thorny so as to avoid being eaten by grazing animals, but because of large local human populations they are often uprooted and used for fuel. In fact, this source of fuel is such a scarce commodity that villagers will booby-trap their supplies of it to prevent stealing. In general, the soil in the region is quite infertile, lacking key minerals and nutrients. Common plants in the grasslands of Afghanistan include, but are by no means limited to, camel thorn, locoweed, spiny restharrow, mimosa, wormwood and sagebrush.

Animal life in the grasslands of Afghanistan is equally diverse. The region is frequented by many hoofed, grazing mammals in the spring and summer, when the grasses are in season. The Transcapian Urial (a type of sheep) and Onager (wild donkeys), for example, inhabit the northern grassy plains of Afghanistan.

The region is also home to up to 34 different species of reptiles. The leopard gecko (Eublepharis Macularis) and Russian Tortoise are very interesting and well-known animals that thrive in this region. The nocturnal leopard gecko feeds on small insects native to the area, and stores fat in its plump tail. The tortoise avoids the heat and lack of vegetation during most months, and comes out of hibernation only in late spring through the early summer.
Lastly, bird species are very numerous and diverse in the steppes of Afghanistan. One specie found in the area is the endangered Saker Falcon, a large and majestic bird with a wingspan, when mature, of over 3 feet. It eats rodents and other birds. This falcon, of which the population is currently estimated to be between 7,200 and 8,800, has seen its population decline as it is popularly captured, usually illegally, and used for falconry.