In recent weeks, people across Turkey have expressed shock and anger after two videos emerged showing hunters killing or torturing bears. Animal rights organizations say that the laws meant to protect bears aren’t strict enough and that the small number of hunters in the country act in impunity.
The two videos were circulating on WhatsApp before someone alerted animal rights group Haytap (The Federation for animal rights - Turkey), which reposted the videos on their Facebook page on July 9 and 12.
The first video shows an injured bear who has blood all over his head and upper body. In the video, you can hear two men speaking. "Attack, attack!” one tells a dog. A dog runs at the bear and bites it. Another dog joins in. At one point, the footage shows a hunter with a rifle just a few meters away from the bear, but he doesn’t put the animal out of its misery.
Animal rights group Haytap says that the incident occurred in May in the village of Arhavi, which is located in the northeastern province of Artvin.
The second video shows two men holding up a dead bear. They laugh as they hit its head and call out insults.
According to Haytap, that video was also likely filmed about two months ago in the village of Agaçseven in the northeastern province of Trabzon. At the start of the video, one of the hunters references Ramadan, which went from April 23 to May 23 this year.
The two videos garnered hundreds of thousands of views on social media. Several news reports also broadcast the footage.
"These hunters enjoy torturing animals"
Haytap filed a complaint on the hunters and hopes that the authorities will set a precedent by handing them tough prison sentences. Ahmet Kemal Senpolat is a lawyer and the president of Haytap.
After people alerted us to these two videos, we ended up filing complaints against the two individuals. Bears are protected by law in Turkey. There are about 3,000 of them remaining, most of whom live in the area near the Black Sea in the north of the country, where both videos were filmed.
We hope that, this time, the laws will be upheld and that these individuals will be handed serious prison sentences, not just fines, which is common in cases where people abuse or torture domestic animals like cats and dogs.
The videos are terrible and really show, in our opinion, these hunters taking pleasure in torturing animals. People feel strongly about this issue in Turkey. It’s villagers from these regions who saw the videos circulating on WhatsApp and contacted us about them. They didn’t dare to speak out themselves because they were afraid of reprisals from the hunters. Even though they took precautions, they told us that they had received threats after the videos were released and broadcast on TV.
"These conflicts could be avoided if we preserved their natural habitat”
Documentary filmmaker Oÿkü Yagci is a member of another Turkish animal rights organization, Hakim (their name is an acronym that stands for Animal Rights Monitoring Committee), as well as the Turkish Vegan Association TVD.
In Turkey, we are lucky that we still have several thousand wild bears that live in the wild [Editor’s note: In comparison, only 52 bears were thought to be living in France in 2019] but, unfortunately, their habitat is being rapidly destroyed by human activity such as the construction of infrastructure like dams and roads.
When I was filming a documentary in Kars (in eastern Turkey), I often saw bears crossing the railroad tracks to go forage for food in a dump. Often, these bears got hit by trains and environmental activists told me they tried everything to save them, in vain.
Sometimes the hunters say that they kill bears because there is a conflict between humans and animals but we think these conflicts could be avoided if we preserved their natural habitat.
We regularly run anti-hunting campaigns. They are quite successful. Turkish people do care about animals and condemn any form of mistreatment, including hunting. But, unfortunately, the laws of the country don’t reflect this movement. Recently, parliament was supposed to vote on a bill that would increase the number of species that can be hunted and facilitate hunting tourism. They ended up postponing the vote.
Few hunters in Turkey
The Turkish government is subject to extreme pressure from hunting lobby groups, even though there are very many few hunters in the country. Only about 290,000 people have hunting licenses in Turkey [Editor’s note: Equivalent to just 0.35% of the Turkish population. In France, for comparison, hunters make up 1.75% of the population]. But, between hunting permits, hunting tourism and fines, they add a fair amount of money to the state coffers. According to official figures, the government made 74.9 million Turkish lira [Editor’s note: 9.5 million euros] in the 2018/2019 season. Banning hunting would result in a certain loss of revenue for the government.
Still,we’re convinced that Turkey could become an example by becoming one of the first countries in the world to abolish hunting.
Hunting is already banned in several countries, including India, several east African nations, and the canton of Geneva in Switzerland. The Berne Convention, signed by most European countries, designates the brown bear as a strictly protected species. Turkey is a signatory to the Convention but made an exception excluding the bear to manage its population.