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The Ziarat area is home to the largest area of juniper forest (juniperus excelsa polycarpus) in Pakistan, covering about 110 000 ha., and is believed to be the second largest of its kind in the world. The junipers of Ziarat are among the oldest living trees in the world. Although no dendrological study has yet been conducted, according to one estimate mature trees are often thousands of years old. Local people refer to the trees as „living fossils‟ and this remarkable longevity allows research into past weather conditions in the region, making the species of special significance for climate change and ecological studies.
The forest lies in the mountain zone with elevation ranging from 1,181 to 3,488 masl and contains high species diversity. The Ziarat Juniper Forest ecosystem is located at the junction of five vegetation zones. The plant species constituting the vegetation cover therefore offer a unique combination of five different vegetation types, which makes it a distinct global site from plant composition point of view. The vegetation of Ziarat forest ecosystem includes species from: Western Irano-Turnian Sub-region, Eastern Irano-Turanian Sub-region, Sino-Japanese Region, Indian Region and Saharo Sindian Region The mountain ranges, including Khalifat Mountain, provide a habitat for endangered wildlife species; recorded mammals include endangered species such as Balochistan Black bear (also called Pakistan Black bear, which is a sub-species of the Asian Black bear), Ursus thibetanus, and the Sulaiman Markhor, Capra falconeri jerdoni, and birds such as Chukar, Mistle thrush, Dark throated thrush, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Simla Black Tit and Bar-tailed Tree Creeper. It also supports a rich diversity of plant species; including other trees such as Wild Ash, Wild Pistachio, Wild Almond, Makhi, Surai and Zralg. The essential oils of branchlets and fruits of the juniper (juniperus excelsa polycarpus) have antioxidant qualities that have made it an important medicinal plant since antiquity. The Ziarat forest also contains a rich diversity of plant species of medicinal significance with over 50 per cent of the 54 catalogued species known to have medicinal or ethno-botanic value, which local people use as indigenous treatments for a variety of diseases.
The Ziarat Juniper Forest was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 2013 as a model region for researching and demonstrating successful approaches to protection and sustainable development. In accordance with UNESCO specifications, it is divided into a core area, buffer zone and transition area defined by how greatly they are affected by human activity. It also operates a biosphere management system.
According to the IUCN Red List subpopulations of juniperus excelsa polycarpus are under pressure and in many areas the juniper forests are actually declining. There may be other regions in which junipers, which are in many respects pioneer trees, are increasing, but the overall trend appears at present to be one of decline.
During the Earth Summit 2002 it was highlighted that old forests have global significance in terms of dealing with the threats from climate change. Due to its large area and old growth trees, the Ziarat Juniper Forest ecosystem as part of the global forest vegetation has assumed immense importance as carbon stock. It is predicted by the UN-REDD+ programme of Climate
Change that such forests will play a vital role in storing amounts of carbon in their biomass and soils and that in the future these forests will play a pivotal role in furthering the cause of carbon sequestration.
The Ziarat area is home to the largest area of juniper forest in Pakistan, covering about 110 000ha and is believed to be the second largest of its kind in the world. The species represented
(juniperus excelsa polycarpus) is found through Central Asia, with Balochistan at its eastern limit; it is different from the junipers found in the western United States which are juniperus occidentalis.
The Ziarat Juniper Forest ecosystem is located at the junction of five vegetation zones. The plant species constituting the vegetation cover therefore offer a unique combination of five different vegetation types. The mountainous environment of the forest provides a habitat for endangered wildlife species including the Himalayan Black Bear and Markhor Wild Goat.
The Ziarat Juniper Forest was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 2013: “Pakistan‟s largest juniper forest is located in this reserve. The forest ecosystem is of inestimable value for biodiversity conservation. It is also of great ecological significance, providing local, regional and global benefits.”
Old forests have global significance in terms of dealing with the threats from climate change.
Due to its large area and old growth trees, the Ziarat Juniper Forest ecosystem as part of the global forest vegetation has assumed immense importance as carbon stock. It is predicted by the UN-REDD+ programme of Climate Change that these forests will play a vital role in storing amounts of carbon in their biomass and soils and that in the future these forests will play a pivotal role in furthering the cause of carbon sequestration.
Globally the juniper species are under pressure and in many areas the juniper forests are actually declining. This highlights the OUV of Ziarat Juniper Forest as a laboratory and focal area for preservation of the juniper ecosystem in line with the World Heritage Forest programme to further forest conservation on a global scale. The values which make up the OUV of the Ziarat Juniper Forest are wholly based on its qualities as a forest according to the IUCN definition. As such World Heritage status in the future would allow the World
Heritage Convention to be used to promote its conservation and, by extension, the preservation of juniper forests globally.
Criterion (x): Ziarat Juniper Forest contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of the juniper species juniperus excelsa polycarpus, a species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of conservation of an ancient ecosystem with a high degree of contemporary relevance in terms of dealing with climate change.
Juniperus is widely distributed throughout the western United States and over a large area from the Near East to Pakistan, but all these forests differ in the juniper species represented and resulting ecosystem. Among the World Heritage Forests there are several forests inscribed on the basis of their importance to key species; for example, the Greater Blue Mountain Area (Australia 2000) inscribed on the basis of its global significance to the genus Eucalyptus and the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany (Slovakia, Ukraine, Germany 2011) which exhibit the most complete and comprehensive ecological patterns and processes of pure stands of European beech. Such properties set a precedent for the inclusion of Ziarat Juniper Forest on the basis of its global significance to the genus Juniperus.