Sarıkaya Lynx Project that was initiated by the Society for the Protection of Natural Resources and Biodiversity (DoğaDer) in 2016 and supported by GEF Small Grant Program (SGP) to develop a solution against an unusual human-carnivore conflict in the Sarıkaya Wildlife Reserve (SWR) in western Antalya has been completed recently. During its preliminary survey in the villages around Sarikaya YHGS a year before the project, DoğaDer’s discovered that the local people believed that the lynx was the reason of decrease in wild goat population and therefore have a negative attitude towards this cat species.
Unfortunately, the reason behind this conflict lies beneath the hunting tourism practices carried out in all wildlife reserves in Turkey for years. Half of the revenue derived from the hunting tourism in the wildlife reserves were transferred to the villages nearby the reserves by the Turkish Government. Although this practice included the villagers into wildlife protection and increased the number of wild goats in nature areas in recent years, the poaching could not be completely finished. The number of wild goats was greatly reduced in some conservation areas because of the old school practices used although their ineptness was well known. Both the villagers and the ministry of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry claimed that the reason behind the reduction in wild goats was lynx and wolf, and consciously accepted them as “harmful species”.
Calling large carnivores, which are keystone species for ecosystems, harmful is a serious problem. Instead of directly increasing awareness of villagers and the ministry personnel, which is usually conducted in most human-carnivore conflict projects, Sarıkaya Lynx Project followed an indirect path that was of no interest of lynx. The project focused totally on solving the poaching problem and a team of villagers and ministry personnel was formed at the beginning stage. Possible trails used by the poachers in the wildlife reserve were identified by the villagers who know the area well and several camera-traps were purchased through the project. These traps were set on these trails and the ministry’s 4-wheel drive trucks provided the transportation. When setting the traps, villagers and ministry personnel were trained on camera-trapping, i.e. selecting the trails, adjusting the camera settings, etc. in the field. The camera-traps were regularly checked by a team of villagers, ministry personnel and project team to establish their knowledge. All these activities were done in secret.
Successful results have been received in a very short period of time. Camera-traps took several photos of a poacher who were known for long time but could not be captured before. In the following months of the survey, different poachers were photographed with their weapons in the reserve. The method that we developed proved itself successful as not a single poacher was photographed in the later months of the project, although we constantly changed the locations of the traps and placed them on different trails. In this period, the fact that gunshots were heard confirmed our success.
So, how did we end the conflict between the villagers and lynx? We managed to establish the trust of villagers and ministry personnel by developing a reliable method to their main problem of poaching. We checked the camera-traps together with the villagers and ministry personnel and developed conversations while spending long days in a highly mountainous area. During these dialogues we indirectly mentioned the ecology of lynx and other carnivores and increased the awareness of all parties on these species. We did not bring villagers, nor ministry personnel in a room to train them the lynx ecology. We only chatted with them while we were climbing the cliffs together, that’s all. When the project was completed, the villagers’ awareness on lynx and other carnivores changed significantly. Today, even after months after the project is completed, the villagers are sending us lynx photos that they took in the reserve and write “Our pal is around”. In their struggle for the protection of the wild goats, villagers accept the lynx as their partner now.