Up to 35,000 birds are seen on and around Kuyucuk Lake in northeastern Turkey. Photo via KuzeyDoğa Society.
As Turkish and Armenian officials continue down the rocky road toward a possible rapprochement, in negotiations that could establish diplomatic relations and re-open the border between the two countries, the prospect of peace may prove perilous for wildlife that has benefited from the political standoff.
The closed border has allowed Kuyucuk Lake, in the northeastern province of Kars, to become a relatively undisturbed respite for birds, reports the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, but environmentalists say much work remains to be done to shore up this sanctuary against the increased traffic the re-opening would bring.
Members of the KuzeyDoğa Society, an environmental NGO, have recently, in collaboration with local officials and residents, cut off road access to a small island in Lake Kuyucuk to protect the birds living in and passing through the area, an important stop on international migratory routes between eastern Europe and Africa.
Grazing and road traffic are two of the main problems affecting the lake's water quality; both traffic and development are expected to increase if the border is reopened. "Cars crash into birds; gasoline or motor oil that leaks from cars flows into the lake with the first rain," Dr. Çağan Şekercioğlu, the president of KuzeyDoğa, told the Hürriyet Daily News. "This becomes a bigger problem when there are more cars."
Recently declared a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, the spring-fed freshwater lake and its surrounding plateau are frequented by up to 35,000 birds from 204 documented species, including the endangered white-headed duck, red-breasted goose, and Egyptian vulture. But, reports Hürriyet:
A lack of data has prevented scientists from determining just how much the increased traffic would affect wildlife in the lake. "No research was made for the longest time. We did the first bird count on Kuyucuk Lake on Sept. 24, 2004," said Şekercioğlu. "At that time, there were around 40,000 birds. The very next year, their number had gone down to less than 10,000."
Since there is no data from before 2004, Şekercioğlu said, scientists cannot be sure whether the high number seen that year was due to a record number of migrating birds, or whether there has been a drop in the region’s bird population.
Volunteers are helping KuzeyDoğa build the body of knowledge needed to implement further protective measures, by banding (or ringing) and counting birds at Kuyucuk Lake and another station in a neighboring province.
"My arrival at Kuyucuk coincided almost exactly with the arrival of huge flocks of Calandra Larks," wrote a bird-watcher from South Africa about his experiences as a volunteer (pdf). "They were particularly active in the early morning and late afternoon and swirled around us ... a before settling in the short grass to sleep or forage. Considering that they were frequently in flocks up to about 2,000, it is not surprising that we caught and ringed more than 300 in the 11 days I was there, and not a single retrap."
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