Turkey Pulse

Death sentences passed on Turkey's hungry bears

Article Summary
Rather than feeding hungry wild bears, officials charged with preserving ecological life have decided to kill 15 of them.

Haphazardly developed hydroelectric power stations, diverted streams and destroyed forests are ravaging the ecological balance in Turkey. The latest natural disaster was in Hopa in the Artvin province in the Black Sea region, where eight people were killed by torrential rains, floods and landslides.

Ecological destruction threatens not only people, but also wild animals living in forests. Animals facing scarce nourishment in their disfigured environments will head to populated areas.

An October news report from Kastamonu caught everyone off guard. It was about a starving bear digging up the grave of a man who had been buried 52 days before in Agli. Residents who found the remnants of the corpse 3-4 meters (10-13 feet) from the grave reburied it. Two months later, people visiting a cemetery in Imranli village saw an opened grave with no corpse in it. With the help of police, the bones of a 66-year old man who had died two months before were found about 100 meters (328 feet) away.

Investigations revealed that these shallow graves were opened by a grizzly bear enticed by the smell of fresh corpses buried close to the surface. People were warned to dig graves deeper. Bears unable to find food in the forest were going after humans. Municipal officials called on the state to take measures to feed the bears in their natural environment.

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But the state has opted to kill the bears instead of feeding them.

The General Directorate of Nature Preservation and National Parks, using the pretext of an increase in bear assaults, issued kill orders for 15 bears in the provinces of Artvin, Giresun, Kastamonu and Sinop. Hunters were selected through a public bidding process. Five bears in Kastamonu will be killed by five hunters who will pay the state 10,000 Turkish lira ($3,420) for each bear they kill. The state will thus be making money from killing bears.

After announcing that the bears killed will be above eight years of age, Kastamonu province Director of Forestry Yalcik Uyanik made an incredible statement: “Each hunter will be accompanied by a hunting guide and one of our staff. Each hunter will be allowed to kill only one bear. This elimination will be a kind of harvesting that will mean healthier bear generations to come because we will kill only ill, weak and elderly bears.”

This bothered many people, who took action. The Committee for Monitoring Animal Rights lodged a complaint, and asked the Wilderness Justice Commission that was set up in July at The Hague to prevent the hunting party. Committee coordinator Burak Ozguner said the state was “allowing murders for money” and that “murders to be committed on pretext of population control cannot be allowed.” Ozguner mocked the forestry director's statement that the bears would be “harvested.”

“What harvest is he talking about? Are these animals grain?” Ozguner asked.

Turkey's office of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) started a petition campaign on change.org in reaction to the “massacre biddings.” Ozgur Gurbuz, WWF communication chief in Turkey, told Al-Monitor that the Ministry of Forestry and Hydraulics informed WWF that the ministry was selecting “male animals whose reproductive capability has waned and those which are ill, handicapped and genetically impaired.”

Gurbuz said, “We asked the ministry how they are going to differentiate. We said, ‘To be able to make such a decision, you have to know how many bears there are and plan accordingly.’ We are destroying the living environments of these animals. We destroy trees to clear terrain for agriculture and cut roads through forests. The [problem] is the intervention of humans, of infringing on their living environment.”

About bear assaults, Gurbuz said, “If you cut roads through wilderness and start building houses, then the animals will come to your grave.”

Some bears also have attacked beehives, and Gurbuz suggested using measures such as electrified fences that deter, but don't kill.

Animal rights defenders are demanding action by parliament to stop the massacre of animals. They started a petition campaign to win representation on the parliamentary Environment Commission for deputies knowledgeable about animal rights, the environment and ecology. However, no action can be expected before the executions begin in October, as parliamentary commissions will not be active in the lead up to early elections Nov. 1. No decision is expected from The Hague until October, either.

The Forestry Ministry is determined to proceed with the executions. Nobody will be surprised if they later ask villagers to vote for the government that saved them from bears. Time is running out for 15 elderly bears. Hunters must be oiling their guns.

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Found in: turkish politics, hunting, environment, ecology, cruelty to animals, black sea, animal rights

Tulay Cetingulec is a Turkish journalist who has worked for Sabah and other Turkish newspapers and magazines such as Dunya, Nokta and Aktuel, covering finance and politics. She has also been a news programmer at Turkish television's Channel 6 and TGRT.  

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