On the night of February 6th, 2023, Türkiye and Syria was struck with two powerful earthquakes, consecutively with 7.7 and 7.6 magnitudes, originating in Kahramanmaraş City, Türkiye. It is sincerely impossible to describe the scale of the destruction both in Türkiye and Syria. After one week, many said that multiple neighborhoods and perhaps cities are erased off the map. It is so hard to talk about and describe what happened without getting teared up.
Human death toll is reported to be more than 47.000 persons as of February 21st. The United Nations estimates that this figure will double. Animal loss is unreported and undocumented, unfortunately. As if none of these are enough, since the first two earthquakes, more than 2.700 aftershocks occured in the same areas, with 3-4-5 magnitudes in variation and they keep happening.
Who We Are
As Animal Save Turkey, we are a group of 30 people with all kinds of tasks. We also teamed up with Yaşamdan Yana Derneği (Stand with Life Association). We are normally living in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, but now we are working in shifts to go to Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep, Malatya, Adıyaman, Hatay (Antakya), Adana, Osmaniye and where calls for help come from.
What We Are Doing
There are multiple actions that are taking place usually simultaneously: Search, rescue, animal transfer, relief items delivery to survivors, coordination with other actors, fundraising and social media management.
We are delivering pet food, pet boxes, as well as water, food, blankets, baby formula, diapers and hygiene materials for the survivors. On the other hand, we search, rescue and transfer the animals in need. We work in shifts to maintain these efforts. One team brings animals back to Ankara and Izmir to safety, as the next group loads the supplies and items and heads to the disaster zone.
When we arrive at an affected area, while one group sets up a mobile soup station, others search for the lost or abandoned animals. We capture surviving animals and put each of them in separate boxes. Sometimes we cannot catch them if they are too scared, and in that case, we leave food for them. Furthermore, we are taking each and every animal that we found or rescued to a vet for a preliminary check to see if the animal is able to be transported, because in some cases the journey takes 20 hours by car due to road blocks and heavy winter conditions. In certain cases, our friends are risking their lives to enter damaged buildings to rescue animals, but this is something we feel we must do. Simultaneously, a part of the team stays in the areas working with local vets and rescue teams. They feed the stray animals and take in the animals after being seen by a vet.
On the other hand, the non-mobile teams are supporting us online, such as receiving the calls for help; forwarding them to the respective team on the ground; managing the social media accounts where we receive dozens of reports, tips, news and calls; sharing what we have been doing and updates about the calls that we have been dispatched; fundraising; communicating with vets for medical procedures of the rescued animals; as well as coordinating the adoption procedures for the rescued animals with volunteering new homes. Adoption processes are carefully coordinated and each applicant is evaluated whether or not they can provide a good home for the rescued animals from the earthquake zone. While the cats or dogs are treated at the vet simultaneously, our friends conduct several interviews and calls in order to form a database for volunteer homes for them.
So many different things happened to pets and farm animals. There are birds and mice, for instance, who are already inside cages. This instantly limits their ability to escape, even if they could somehow. Dogs and cats have slightly more chances as a result. However, they panic, too, and sometimes they go into hiding somewhere in rubbles, which makes it even harder to locate and rescue them. Sometimes when a building is not safe to enter (after assessments made by the search-and-rescue specialists), no one is allowed to go inside even if the building is standing. At that point, sometimes you can just watch a pet next to the window and cannot do anything. If we are lucky and get a crane to the street, we can reach the pet from outside and take it from the window, that is also if the animal will not get scared and run into the house.
There are also farm animals who are mostly abandoned inside farms. We are sending water and feeds to them via their owners or local groups. Sometimes we come across animals on the streets and roads. It is safe to say that no animal outside was able to find any food or water. It is pure relief when we approach that animal and they do not run off and actually drink the water we bring to them.
We have rescued and transferred dozens of cats and birds, as well as several dogs and rabbits from several cities. We have rescued and/or transported 267 animals in total, with 178 birds, 72 cats, 16 dogs and 1 rabbit. Almost all of them are brought to safety, while some are in the process of transportation, as of February 21st.
We concluded 7 round trips to disaster zones personally and supported 6 transportation efforts. The timeline and the number of animals rescued are as follows:
- February 10th, Friday: Gaziantep & Osmaniye, 5 cats
- February 11th, Saturday: Gaziantep & Kahramanmaraş, 21 cats
- February 12th, Sunday: Adıyaman, 8 cats (one disabled) and 1 dog
- February 13th, Monday: Malatya & Gaziantep (relief items and pet food support)
- February 13th, Monday: Adana, 40 birds, 7 dogs and 5 cats (transportation)
- February 15th, Wednesday: Hatay, 3 birds and 3 cats
- February 16th, Thursday: Hatay, 39 birds (transportation)
- February 17th, Friday: Hatay, 8 cats and 2 dogs
- February 17th, Friday: Adana, 3 cats and 2 dogs (transportation)
- February 18th, Saturday: Gaziantep, 4 cats (transportation)
- February 18th, Saturday: Adana, 5 cats and 2 dogs (transportation)
- February 19th, Sunday: Hatay, 26 birds, 4 cats, 1 rabbit and 1 dog
- February 21st, Tuesday: Hatay, 70+ birds, 6 cats and 1 dog (transportation)
- February 24st, Friday: Hatay, 11 cats
- February 25st, Saturday: Hatay, 14 dogs, 3 cats and 1 rooster
Search and rescue coordination is extremely difficult against the scale of the disaster. The number of organizations and initiatives for animal search and rescue is clearly not enough. For instance, when we reach a call for help, the animal in need might have run off or got lost under the rubbles. No one is able to keep up with all the scared, lost or wounded animals. Insufficient cooperation also hurts our efforts, as we end up wasting our energy, time and resources to answer a call for help.
Disaster left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, as well as an unknown number of animals -maybe thousands, maybe tens of thousands. There are medical concerns, emergency surgery, emergency shelter, food, water, medicine needs that are piling up, as search and rescue efforts continue to save animals. The chaos hinders our efforts to find the owners of each and every animal. Their owners sometimes turn out to be passed away, in those cases we are in a rush to find new and loving homes to those animals. What’s more, the adoption procedures are time-consuming, as there are malevolent people who try to “snatch a pedigree animal and sell them or breed them”, which forces us to be extra careful on our selection procedures.
Needs & Future Plans
Although this is a disaster that priorities are emergency response, shelter, food, water, health services and similar needs, we also need to start thinking about the medium term and long term needs of people and animals. First of all, the primary need is permanent shelter. There are several organizations that are trying to locate the owners of lost, abandoned and wounded animals, to find new homes for them, to cover their medical expenses and to transport them to safety. These current needs are actually basic needs that will continue to be present in the medium and long terms. Therefore, we need permanent solutions to these ongoing issues. We are planning a vegan sanctuary that will be a home for dozens of rescued animals and the livelihoods of possibly several people that will care for them. We initiated some steps to materialize a vegan sanctuary in the capital of Türkiye, Ankara. We will need cooperation, coordination, funding, human resources and more to make this come true.
How to Support
We are working hard under very difficult circumstances surrounded by death and suffering. Yet, we want to continue our efforts for all animals, whether lost in buildings or left in farms. We want to be able to keep sharing positive stories. We can use all the support and visibility we can get, because it will matter for each and every cat, dog, bird, mouse, horse and sheep. After following our efforts, if you wish to contribute in any way, please consider donating via our GoFundMe account and sharing these incredible stamina and patience that our teams have been displaying.
Our GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-animal-save-turkey
Writer: Berna Köse