Çağan Şekercioğlu – Landscape Conservation of Large Carnivores, TurkeY
Double Gold Award winner, Çağan Şekercioğlu is in the top 1% of the world’s most cited conservation scientists and oversees the largest active conservation project in Turkey which is protecting, connecting and restoring habitat for endangered wildlife, providing a vital corridor between Turkey and neighbouring Georgia.
North East Turkey is a biodiversity hot spot but receives little conservation attention. A relentless construction agenda threatens to dismantle environmental laws and wipe out wildlife populations, putting Turkey’s biodiversity in crisis.
“Partnership Funding by Fondation Segré will support landscape-scale conservation of large carnivores in northeastern Turkey through research, awareness raising, environmental education and lobbying the government to create new protected areas, including completion of Turkey’s first wildlife corridor”. Çağan Şekercioğlu
In its second year, Cagan’s project has made the following progress towards its goals:
Goal 1: Create the next generation of conservation leaders in Turkey.
- A team of young experts has been established through the training of PhD, MSc and undergraduate students who have benefited from hands-on training as field assistants and have gone on to pursue careers in conservation.
Goal 2: Generate population estimates for large carnivores in this data-deficient region using population surveys, ecological research and mark-recapture analyses.
- A trained sniffer dog was used to collect over 1,200 carnivore scats (droppings) during Year 1 of the project from which DNA has been extracted to identify individual animals as part of a molecular mark-and-recapture study to estimate population size. A total of 49 individual brown bears have been identified. Analysis of scats for other species is on-going. This is the first genetics-based scientific population estimate for any wildlife species in Turkey.
Goal 3: Track the movements and understand the habitat requirements of large carnivores in the region.
- GPS collars have been fitted on a total of 21 bears, 11 wolves and 2 lynx to track their movements and provide crucial information on habitat use, range and behaviour.
- This is the first project to use crittercams (video collars) on bears and wolves in Turkey. It has led to significant media attention for the project, providing a ‘carnivore’s eye view’ of the corridor, and has even deterred poachers from killing collared animals.
- Two scientific papers have been published including the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken on human-wildlife conflict in Turkey and the discovery of world’s first migratory brown bears.
- A group of 16 brown bears were monitored: six of the bears seasonally migrated between feeding and breeding sites along the corridor, the first known brown bears to do so. The other 10 bears stayed in one spot all year long: the city dump – which is planned for closure and could increase human-wildlife conflict in urban areas if waste is not stored in bear-proof containers which Cagan is advocating.
- Tracking data was crucial towards securing approval of Tukey’s wildlife corridor in 2011 and will play an important role in understanding wildlife ecology and guiding conservation measures such as identifying where animals most frequently cross roads and where underpasses would therefore be most effective.
- Data gathered during collaring shows lynx in the project area are the smallest in the world, weighing just 15kg. This could be due to a lack of natural prey, strengthening campaigns to reintroduce prey species and highlighting the need to reforest degraded areas to improve habitat suitability.
Goal 4: Use camera traps to monitor mammal diversity and abundance.
- The first comprehensive camera trap survey in north-eastern Turkey has been completed. A network of 40 camera traps was set-up to monitor mammal populations and interactions in the Sarıkamış forest.
- Over 80,000 photos were collected at 65 stations over three years. These data have been analysed and are currently pending publication.
Goal 5: Increase community Involvement.
- Community surveys conducted in 53 towns and villages since 2010 found that the percentage of people using guns in reaction to large wildlife has declined, and there has been an increase in the percentage of people avoiding large wildlife instead. Knowledge of wildlife ecotourism and desire to participate has more than doubled since 2010 following education and outreach.
- Increasingly, people call KuzeyDoga staff and/or government officials when a bear or wolf attacks their livestock, instead of shooting them. People are now aware of deterrent solutions like non-lethal electric fencing of bee hives and are now insuring their livestock against predator attacks.
- The project was featured in over 250 news stories about wildlife research and conservation efforts including local and national newspapers, radio and TV programmes and international news outlets. This included 11 documentaries on National Geographic Wild, TRT Belgesel (national TV documentary channel), IzTV (dedicated documentary channel), and CNN Turk (the most respected news channel of Turkey).
Goal 6: Build political support for large carnivore conservation.
- Data collected by KuzeyDoga is being used to lobby the Turkish government to increase protected areas and conservation efforts in Turkey during national and international meetings and in national media.
- The official process to secure the wildlife corridor as a ‘Protected Forest’ is ongoing in relevant departments of the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs and reforestation of the wildlife corridor by the Ministry has begun.
- Following successful lobbying, to reduce road kill incidents KuzeyDoğa is working with government to construct a wildlife crossing that will connect two patches of Sarıkamış forest that are currently bisected by a high-speed, four-lane interstate highway. The location of this wildlife overpass was determined by using the data collected from GPS collars.
- The project was chosen as one of the five most successful United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) projects in the world and KuzeyDoga was the only Turkish NGO invited to the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) 5th Assembly meeting in Mexico.
- KuzeyDoga was elected an IUCN member in April 2016, becoming one of only five NGOs from Turkey that are IUCN members. The NGO represented Turkey at the 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.