The Western Palearctic population of Brown Fish Owl (Ketupa zeylonensis) has a small and disjunct range, possibly with fewer than 80 pairs confined to Southern Turkey, and therefore the species was evaluated as Critically Endangered when last assessed at European level (Birdlife International 2004). If the preliminary results are confirmed and the Turkish birds are to be regarded as a separate species the need for protection will be felt even more as it will be one of the rarest bird species in the world.
After a long period without sightings of fish owls in Turkey or the rest of the Western Palearctic region, in 2004 one area, in 2009 another area with possibly three territories and in 2010 at least three other areas for the species were discovered in the southern Taurus mountains. The habitat of fish owl consists of steep cliffs in mountainous habitat with huge mature pine trees bordering clean freshwater rivers or pools with crab and fish, which do not freeze over during winter. Yet it became clear that the species is very hard to find due to its nocturnal behavior and its mountainous habitat is hard to survey.
People living in the vicinity of fish owls know the species but the are unaware of its rarity. People working at fish farms along rivers where the fish owls occur shoot at piscivorous animals, sometimes, including fish owl. Furthermore, large infrastructural changes such as dams or logging are noticed in most of the areas. Doğa has recently implemented a conservation project with the support of BirdLife International to assess the conservation opportunities and threats to the species around known nesting sites in order to formulate conservation recommendations.
In August 2014, the first field survey is conducted of which the details are reported in the interim report. The second field trip was conducted to Köprülü Kanyon National Park (Antalya), Oymapınar Hydropower Dam, Altınbeşik Cave, İbradı – Üzümdere District and Bozyazı Valley – Karaisalı village, Limonlu Town and Darıpınarı Village of Çamlıyayla (Kadıncık Valley), on 17-23 September 2014. A final trip was carried out to the region on 7-9 February 2015, to implement a training program for local leaders in the Kadıncık Valley. All trips helped to confirm previously known territories and better understand the range of the species and associated threats with conservation opportunities.
At the first and second surveys, the known and possible nesting sites of the species were visited by our team in order to make direct observations at these sites and carry out interviews with local groups, villagers and other stakeholders; to identify which groups can voluntarily assist the hands-on conservation of the species. An informative poster on the species was printed and distributed throughout the range of the species during the second and third field trips. During the field surveys specific and common threats to the species were also identified. In all the sites there are significant threats to the species and its habitat: particularly habitat loss and degradation due to river type Hydro-electricity power plants (HPP), dams and tourism investments.
Doğa aims at maintaining hands-on conservation in cooperation with locals and trout farmers and supports the network of volunteers throughout the range of the species, especially at the Kadıncık Valley. Findings of the Doğa’s conservation project will be incorporated to the national action plan for the species. Monitoring of all breeding sites and clarification of the taxonomy of the Anatolian Brown Fish Owl are other priorities of Doğa for the conservation of this rare species.
Photograph: © Sezai Göksu