In Remotest Anatolia, Lone NGO Speaks Up On Nature’s Behalf

Çağan ŞekercioğluÇağan Şekercioğlu founded ecological research and conservation NGO KuzeyDoğa in 2007 to promote biodiversity and resist environmental degradation in Turkey’s fast-developing eastern region.

As thermal power plants and hydroelectric dams pop up more and more across Turkey’s landscape, the effects of these developments on the natural environment go largely unseen. Especially in Turkey’s rural, lightly settled eastern region, few locals know the detriments of pollution, flooding, and overgrazing on wildlife. Even fewer can do anything about it.One passionate Turkish conservationist, however, has been trying to counter and spread awareness about environmental degradation through KuzeyDoğa (NorthEast), an NGO he founded four years ago. And he’s getting results.

The issue

The northeastern corner of Turkey marks the confluence of two biodiversity hotspots, the Irano-Anatolian and the Caucasus, and contains 22 key biodiversity areas. Lakes, rivers, and other wetlands across the region are the primary habitats for many rare bird species endemic to Anatolia.

But flooding from hydroelectric dams, overgrazing, and air pollution from the increasing number of coal- and gas-fired power plants being built in eastern Turkey has damaged these environments, threatening the populations of birds and mammals that rely on them.

A champion for biodiversity

Enter Çağan Şekercioğlu, an Istanbul native who now sits on the faculty at the University of Utah, specializing in community-based conservation, ecology, ornithology, and tropical biology.

Since founding KuzeyDoğa four years ago, Şekercioğlu and his NGO have completed myriad projects to conserve and protect the wildlife of northeastern Turkey. The organization has banded almost 40,000 birds at two research and education centers, and opened a “vulture restaurant” — don’t worry, not a literal restaurant! — where ecotourists can observe and photograph vultures from behind a wildlife blind in Mount Ağrı National Park.

At Lake Kuyucuk, the most important bird wetland in the northeastern Kars region of Turkey, KuzeyDoğa built Turkey’s first artificial island for bird conservation on an old road that used to bisect the lake. Now, birds can roost and breed safely on the island.

KuzeyDoğa’s most ambitious project yet is currently in process: Turkey’s first wildlife corridor, an undisturbed, 81-kilometer-long path of wilderness that would cut across Turkey’s eastern half. Şekercioğlu believes such a corridor would decrease the number of bear attacks on humans in the area, give the bears in Turkey’s Sarıkamış National Forest more space, and assist the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forestry with its overall reforestation goals. Ministry officials have already traveled the proposed route, mapped it in detail, and checked the site conditions.

Teaching Turkey’s next generation of conservationists

“A major component of this project is contributing to the education of future scientists,” Şekercioğlu told Turkey’s Today’s Zaman.

KuzeyDoğa staff have held theoretical and applied training workshops on conservation and large carnivore research for biology students from Turkey’s Kafkas University. The training entails field studies with camera-collected data in Sarıkamış Forest and the Allahüekber Mountains National Park, as well as surveys about large carnivores in the surrounding villages.

The major challenge facing KuzeyDoğa? Funding.

“We need Turkey’s support to continue our good work,” Şekercioğlu says. “I hope the government and the Turkish public will support our conservation efforts and ecological work more so KuzeyDoğa can become financially stable and won’t have to rely on foreign donations. The world’s 17th biggest economy shouldn’t have to rely on international charity to conserve its globally important biodiversity.”

:: Today’s Zaman

Read more about threatened biodiversity in Turkey and the region:
Helping Turkish Wildlife Cross The Road
Turkey’s Touristic Beach Towns: Sun, Sea — And A Little Animal Exploitation?
Landmines and Eco-Tourism Protect Lebanon’s Vulnerable Cedar Forests

Image via Today’s Zaman

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