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Turkey: A Tale of Wildfires and Flood. Consequences of Climate Change

Nigeria Kaduna Zoo Rescue (Stern, Focus & T-Online)
5 December 2020

Growing up along the Mediterranean Sea, meant bumpy rides, long siestas and many small-scale memories of fire.

2021 turned these memories into a nightmare—the hideous breath of a wildfire closing in on villages at the end of July, many volunteering to help firefighters put out the embers armed with just a pair of gloves. Fire and the Mediterranean are inseparable. It’s been that way for more than 2,000 years. Verses about flames assailing thick woodlands dot Homer ‘s Iliad. It’s tempting to dismiss this summer’s blaze as more of the same. After all, some might say, our dear old Med has been burning for as long as humanity can remember. But that would be a mistake. Many of the fires we saw were lit by farmers who knew how to manage forests. The Mediterranean today is hotter and drier. Many people have abandoned rural areas for the cities, leaving timber and bushes as tinder.

“There was a time when there was much more fire in the landscape, but it wasn’t a disaster because people had a feeling for it. They managed it better because they understood it better,” said Held, a senior expert at the European Forest Institute . “It was a different society back then—and a different fire.”

At the end of July,  Greece and Turkey started being devastated by wildfires spreading at an unprecedented rate. The unfolding crisis was needing critical attention and is rooted in the reality of life on a warming planet. Greece and Turkey are home to species that don’t live anywhere else on our planet. Roughly a fifth of Greece’s 36,000 species are only found in Greece and nowhere else in the world. The fires are threatening endangered golden jackals as well as hares, foxes, tortoises and many more.

The badly hit Turkish province of Antalya is home to over 11,000 species, 121 of which are endangered.  In the southwestern region of Turkey, whole villages were being evacuated. In the beautiful green forests of the south, the ecosystem has turned to ash. It was heartbreaking.  Climate change may not be the root cause of all of these fires, but in most cases, it is at least to blame for the dry conditions that allow fires to spread rapidly. When a forest burns, we lose a powerful tool for sequestering carbon, further accelerating climate change—and making fires more likely.

During the first days of the fire outbreak in Turkey, Wild at Life has swiftly organized a team to be present on the ground. Our NGO reached the area as soon as possible and started working in the blazes to rescue the wild animals badly injured by the flames. Our teams were dispersed in various corners of the region, and we have worked nonstop to research, rescue and evacuate the burning areas. Countless birds, tortoises, hares, boars, squirrels, bears, snakes and many more species were trying to run away from their burning homes, making them killed or heavily injured in the process. We tried to rescue as many as possible but most of them were not lucky enough to escape the fires.

Wild at Life has also assisted in the rescue of farm and stray animals. Our teams rescued any lives they could, and we did not stop working for the entire month of August. We were also based in Manavgat Animal Shelter, and we have brought in many animals we have rescued from the fires. Together with the Chief Veterinarian, we have assisted many animals in dire need. We were actively in the region to help firefighters help stopping the ravaging inferno, with our professional fire outfits and equipment. The entire scene was unbearable. Everyone came together to stop the fires from spreading more. The entire population came to be united for the same goal: saving the forests.

A summary video of our Fire Rescue Mission:

Wild at Life had another vital mission as well. Rescuing and making sure the free-roaming Yılkı (feral) horses of Eynif Plain, located in the Ormana Neighborhood of Antalya’s İbradı district, which was also ravaged by the wildfires, would have the chance of survival. Nearly 50 herds with some 1200 horses roam the area. The horses and their surrounding nature offer some beautiful views for travelers and photographers. These horses of Eynif Plain have an authentic lifestyle and family order.  According to legends, some horses, called “ıdık” or “idük” in Göktürk language were released into the wild here. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire many soldiers returned home with their horses. But the military horses were of little use in regular work, so they were released in the Eynif Plain. They were the ancestors of the horses that roam the area today. These endemic horses are very important to the World Heritage and Biodiversity. Wild at Life team spent weeks making sure they were protected from the fires.

A short video of these beautiful wild horses:

Scientists are more certain than ever that man made climate change will make the Mediterranean more prone to disastrous blazes. Even if we manage to cut greenhouse gas emissions sharply, temperatures will keep rising for the next few decades.

Strong winds fueled the fire, which spread quickly over dry vegetation, burning through huge hectares. People were evacuated, the government deployed soldiers, fire extinguisher planes along with hundreds of firefighters.

You need to be prepared, to have the resources, the skill and the knowledge. But just like in California and Australia, you need to understand there comes a point where these fires are beyond the threshold of control in terms of intensity and numbers. The key is to not reach that point of no return, experts say. And the only way to do that is to implement land and forest management techniques well before a fire starts.

We have to accept that we have to live with wildfires, and we have to adapt our way of living to them.  We need to work on creating resistant and resilient landscapes and societies that know how to react when there is a wildfire.

In the midst of our work in the wildfires, another natural disaster has hit Turkey. This time the city of Kastamonu, in the Black Sea Region. A flood, which was never seen before, has swallowed the district of Bozkurt from the map. Countless lives, human and animals, could not be counted for. Bozkurt was gone under water. Wild at Life team, in an emergency response, has reached the area. We were appointed by AFAD, The Turkish Ministry of Interior Natural Disaster Management Department, to work on the premises. Days after days we have researched and rescued countless lives, and all this with little or no sleep. The scene was a remembrance of our work during the big 1999 Turkish earthquake: houses under water, cars gone, buildings collapse, a heavy mud that makes it impossible to walk through… and people coming together to rescue what has been left alive.

Your support enables Wild at Life to bring about scientifically proven solutions to deforestation. We work on the ground in crucial areas around the world. Together, we can protect forests. And for the sake of our shared future, we mustPlease give as generously as you can today to stop forest destruction, so we can look forward to a safer tomorrow.

As the fires continue to blaze, the rescue efforts are critical. You can help Wild at Life get emergency funds to stop the fires, care for injured wildlife and prevent more devastation.

Thank you for your continuous support.