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Shared Landscapes Wolves, Humans in Rural Turkey

May 30, 2024
Above: Photo of the wolf captured by Çağan Şekercioğlu on eastern Turkey’s Kars-Ardahan plateau. Photo Credit: Çağan Şekercioğlu

Utah biologists track gray wolves with GPS collars and camera traps as their numbers rebound into populated parts of northeast Turkey.

After 14 years of gathering and analyzing field data, an international research team led by University of Utah biologist Çağan Şekercioğlu has released the first and only study of gray wolf movements and ecology in Turkey. Using GPS collars and camera traps, researchers tracked seasonal variations of wolves’ range sizes in the highlands of Turkey’s rural northeastern corner, where people are widely present during the summer but mostly absent in the winter when the area is completely snowbound. The team was surprised to discover human presence had no effect on wolf movements.

“Even though human activity changes drastically, wolves are not taking advantage of that by increasing their home range size or changing their home range size between the seasons when humans are there and when they’re not there,” said J. David Blount, lead author of the study published this month in the journal Wildlife Biology. “Theoretically they have a lot of different needs during these times that should be fluctuating, especially with the dispersing wolves.”

Çağan Şekercioğlu (center)

“Wolves are very adjustable, which leads to many exciting behavioral adaptations,” said Blount, a graduate student in Şekercioğlu’s lab. “However, studies are pretty context-dependent.”

Since the mid-1990s, wolves have been making a comeback following re-introductions in the Yellowstone region, Arizona and, most recently, western Colorado. The wolf situation in eastern Turkey is completely different, according to Şekercioğlu, a professor of biology. While wolves have been a problem for livestock operations, shepherds and ranchers have learned to live with the apex predator with the help of Anatolian sheepdogs, which protect cattle and sheep without harming the wolves.

The study area covered 550 square kilometers surrounding Sarıkamış, a town of 15,500.  Over 14 research seasons, running from mid-May to mid-August, the research team captured 46 wolves and fitted them with GPS collars, which recorded a location every five hours and are designed to fall off after two years. The cameras yielded 26,000 photos of wildlife and countless others that recorded animals other than wildlife.

According to the study, as wolves resettle areas near towns, understanding how wolves adjust their temporal and spatial patterns in human-dominated landscapes can contribute to their conservation. An ornithologist who studies tropical songbirds, Şekercioğlu began eying wolves when he moved from Stanford University in 2010 and used startup funds provided by the University of Utah to initiate the project, also supported by grants from Fondation Segré, the Sigrid Rausing Trust and the Whitley Fund.

Read the full story by Brian Maffly, @The U.