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I spent a couple of days mammal watching in Turkey when I was over there on a work trip in April 2006. I planned my weekend around trying to see Mediterranean Monk Seals, of which only a few hundred remain in the world, a portion of which are at scattered localities around the Turkish coast; and Wild Goats (sometimes referred to as Bezoar Ibex) which are pretty easy to find in the right areas. In the end I wasn't successful in my quest to see either animal, but did manage to see a few nice mammals on the way. I returned in June 2007 again for work but managed to return for a few hours to Aladag Mountain.
Kas Before I left for Turkey I'd got in touch with AFAG, a Turkish NGO set up to protect Mediterranean Monk Seals to find out how I might best go to see them near Antalya, on the south coast. They put me in touch with the Dragoman Travel Agency in Kas run by Gokhan Ture.(Dragoman Outdoor Travel Agency, Phone:+ 90 242 836 3614).Gokhan is actively involved in seal conservation and he was good enough to arrange for me to hitch a ride with some local fisherman for a few hours. He reckoned my chances would have been very good in the quieter winter months, especially in February when the fisherman were using long lines and nearly every day were seeing a seal eating the fish off the hooks. But by April the fisherman were using nets again, which, coupled with a bit more boat traffic than in winter, meant the seals are somewhat harder to see.
I flew into Antalya in the evening, hired a car and drove the 3 hours to Kas where Gokhan met me at 11pm with the news that the fishos wanted to leave at 2am (in 3 hours time), rather than the 5am I'd been counting on. So after a couple of hours kip in a hotel I was back at the Kas harbour. Although the seals are quite nocturnal there wasn't a great deal to see in the dark so I grabbed a few hours more sleep on the deck, lulled by the diesel fumes and throb of the outboard.
The sun rose just after 6am and I thought we'd lucked out until the 'seal' that was cruising around the nets turned into a Bottlenose Dolphin. The fishermen pulled in the nets and 4 hours later we were back in Kas. No seals but the view was pretty speccy.
Back in Kas Gokhan suggested that other good places to try my luck would be Foca (on the west coast) or Boyazi-Mersin, between Antalya and Adana, both of which had small but well-studied seal populations. But Kas, in the winter at least, was as good a place to look as any he thought.
Akseki A quick shower and brekky and on the road again at 11am, back to Antalya then a couple of hours further east and north to the small town of Akseki, where various birdos had seen Persian Squirrels. They are supposedly common in a walled plantation somewhere near town and another woodpecker site on the Asheki bypass. I wandered around a graveyard by the soccer stadium which had a small stand of woodland. No squirrels but several tortoises. I'd been spotted by a zealous Aksekian, and the Chief of Police was waiting for me when I left the cemetery. He was very polite, just wanting to make sure I wasn't in search of archaeological treasure. I explained about the squirrels and, after conferring with the rest of the force, he said that he'd seen one once in another cemetery at the top of town (near the college). Off I went, and, within 3 minutes, I had seen my first Persian Squirrel - an attractive thing and very like a Red Squirrel.
To get to the cemetery head into town. As you are going up the hill, turn left immediately past the police station and follow the switchbacks up the hill for a few hundred metres at which point you'll see the cemetery on the right.
Aladag Mountain, near Nigde It took another 6 hours to get to the Ozsafak Pension near Camardi (south east of Nigde). A popular spot with birders, who travel there to look for Snowcocks on Aladag Mountain, and who sometimes report Wild Goats (Capra aegagrus). Ali Safak, who deals with phone queries about the pension and speaks good English, thought I'd have little trouble finding the goats. It was well after dark when I left the small town of Pozanti for the hour's drive to Camardi. About 20km from Camardi (and at 9.30pm) I saw a Beech (Stone) Marten on the road (just a fleeting glimpse but Pine Martens in Turkey are rarer and restricted to old growth forest). A few km's further on I saw a small mammal crossing the road and then disappearing under my wheels. Spun the car round to find I'd unfortunately squashed a Grey (Migratory) Hamster - a beautiful thing about the size of a large mouse, with a very short tail and lovely fur.
The next morning we set up the mountain in a 4WD to look for the goats. They'd seen 20 up there the day before, at around 2500m. But there had been heavy snow overnight and so we could only drive to within an hour's walk of the right spot. As we trudged up the track, through about 30cm of snow, the cloud cover increased and the only thing that was clear was that we wouldn't see any goats unless we got within 50m of them. There was a chance that the clouds might have cleared I guess, but then the snow got deeper and we could no longer work out where the road was. I decided to leave the goats for another trip.
We did however drive around the valley looking for Asia Minor Ground Squirrels (Gelenji is the Turkish name, Spermophilius xanthoprymnus the latin), eventually seeing one not far from the pension. These things, very similar to European Sousliks, are abundant in the summer but it was a bit too cold to find many active when we were looking.
Aladag is a nice spot, and the pension was comfortable, welcoming and good value. But, if you do decide to take a guided trip it is worth double checking the price beforehand. There was some confusion when I came to pay about whether the price I had been quote was for a guide, or a guide and vehicle (the latter was double the former).
I went back to Aladag in June 2007. I arrived at about 2am and on the drive from Pozanti that night again saw a Beech Marten on the road as well as a Southern White-bellied Hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor) . We found some Wild Goats (Capra aegagrus) easily enough on the top of a cirque the next morning. I spent an hour or so walking along the river near the pension looking for Water Shrews (which were supposed to be quite common) without any luck.
I saw a couple more Ground Squirrels on the 5 hour drive to Ankara (about 15km south east of Guzelyurt, between Nigde and Anksaray), though would undoubtedly have seen a few more in the summer (they are reputed to be abundant between Karaman and Eregli for instance).
Work took me to Ankara, where I didn't see any interesting creatures unless you include a "nightclub" full of at least 100 Russian women, who would share a beer with if you thought 50 euros for 10 minutes was worth it.
From Ankara I went on to Istanbul, where I was pleased to see a good number of Bottlenose Dolphins in the Bosphorus estuary (in the heart of the city). In June 2007 I spent a week working in Istanbul. I didn't spend any time mammal watching but did see another Beech Marten, in the gardens of the Hilton Hotel near Taksim Square at about midnight!
Charles Hood also reports a reliable spot for Persian Squirrels in Istanbul as follows:
Based on two brief visits (March 2012, June 2012), Persian Squirrel seems a reliable tick in Yildiz Park near Central Istanbul.
Yildiz Park is northeast of central tourist Istanbul, about a mile from Taksim Square as the Rose-ringed Parakeet flies. (Longer distance, if walking.) At least in spring and summer, the squirrel is easy and could be done as part of a regular tourist day. Plan on arriving moderately early (an hour after sunrise), and in fact, just by riding in a taxi slowly up and down the main axis road, a person might even see one from the car. On foot, it should take ten minutes or less. The most productive place appears to be the lower half of the park, in the overgrown woodland along the main stream.
One could hire a taxi, see the squirrel, and be back at most of the central hotels in time for coffee before the museums open.
If coming from anywhere in Old City, cross Galata Bridge on the main coastal road heading north. On the right will be (in order, south to north) the Kabatas tram stop and ferry terminal, Dolmabahce Palace, the Four Seasons Bosporus, and Curagan Palace. Immediately after this palace the park is sign-posted on the left; there is a police checkpoint and an obvious entry gate in a wall. Squirrels can be found throughout the park, and on the visits listed above, seemed common, even abundant. One would assume mid-week is preferred (for crowds), and earlier seemed better than later. Common parkland birds are present too, and a few feral dogs, but no actual wildlife to speak of.
If I return to Istanbul I'll try to find time to look for the European Sousliks that are supposed to be common about 1 to 2 hours drive out of Istanbul, eg Uskumrukoy and Tekros north of the city, and Buyuk, Cekmece and Selmpasa west of the city and further west towards the town of Edrine, in the province of Thrace.
Finally, I must give thanks to Dr C. Can Bilgin from the biology department at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara for all his detailed help on Turkey's mammals as well as corrections to this page. I include below some more notes he gave me on other species that I haven't seen and none of which I saw this time (but which I hope to find time to go back to look for).
Asian Garden Dormouse Eliomys melanurus: Very difficult. Urfa near the