Save the horses of Istanbul’s islands

The island’s horses under quarantine in Istanbul Municipality’s stables, February 2020.
(Some are kept in stablemen’s quarters due to overcrowding.) Conditions are terribly inadequate, resulting in the death of dozens of horses.

Prince’s islands of Istanbul, Turkey, had been hosting more than 1500 horses just 3 months ago. With dozens of horsed dead, hundreds are now facing deportation, and are at risk of being sold as ‘meat.’

Click here and sign the petition to help save hundreds of horses on the islands

The horses of the islands were used in horse carriages, but the system had problems – mainly due to a lack of control by the authorities. Cars and other motor vehicles are not allowed to be used on the islands, where millions of tourists come to see the historic architecture and have a ride through the forests in a horse-drawn carriage. The pressure of tourism resulted in the overworking of horses by some owners, which triggered a campaign to ban the horse carriages altogether.[1]

On December 19, 2019, 81 horses were killed due to glanders disease. Although the disease was found only on Büyükada, one of the islands, all the horses on all islands were quarantined for three months, an unlawfully long period. A total of 105 horses were killed by the authorities. But much more died because they were locked up into stables without paddocks or any other means to run or rest.[2] The horses have not been kept under any horse veterinarian’s control throughout the period of quarantine. Moreover, in breach of quarantine regulations, even the healthy horses are kept in confinement.

The Municipality of Istanbul announced on January 16th, 2020, that the use of horse carriages in transportation will not be allowed any more, and all horses and carriages would be bought from their owners.[3] Owners who wanted to keep their horses were also coerced into selling them to the Municipality, being told that they would have nowhere to keep the horses and that they would be confiscated anyway.

Now owning around 1,200 horses, the Municipality of Istanbul has no means to take care of all these animals, which accelerates their death in horrible conditions.

One of the horses that died in Istanbul Municipality’s “Ispark” Stable in Büyükada,
February 13, 2020.
This is the only ‘legal’ stable on the islands, previously hosting 640 horses. It is now overcowded with more than 1,000 horses bought by the Municipality.

To the dismay of those following the situation and seeking basic animal rights, the Municipality stated that they would not be allocating a paddock area for the horses, nor transferring them to ‘wild life areas’ as initially stated, because the Ministry of Agriculture will not allocate the land necessary for this.

Many owners had to sell their horses as they were threatened that the stables would be destroyed and they would lack a means to provide for the horses and themselves as they are not allowed to work the horses any more. Despite this, there are some who have kept and taken good care of their horses against all odds. Those people are now struggling to find a place to look after the horses.[4]

As the quarantine period approaches an end (on March 19th), the Municipality of Istanbul has declared that it will be “giving away: all the horses it has bought on the islands for free, to be used by organizations and individuals. This declaration raises our concerns that the horses of the islands will be given into illicit hands or to be slaughtered in the underground horse-meat market.

Click here to help us save hundreds of horses on the islands

We need your help to save the horses. The islands’ horses belong in the islands, where they might earn their living through horse therapies, horse riding, or other activities once they are given their homes to stay. We ask that the stables are not destroyed by the Municipality –until better ones are built- and land is allocated for horses to remain on the islands.

We believe in the possibility and greatness of a life shared with horses. We have lived with them on the island for decades, and we feel responsible for their lives. Public pressure and international solidarity seems to be the only way of re-gaining homes for the horses of the island.

To save hundreds of horses, please sign and share this petition, and tweet to the Governor of Istanbul @TC_istanbul, Istanbul Municipality @municipalityist, and the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry @TCTarim.

Follow us at @AAtlari -the horses of the islands- adalarinatlari@gmail.com for more info.

March 13, 2020.


[1] Although the campaign is presented as carried out by animals’ rights activists, it was actually President Tayyip Erdoğan’s order to ban horse carriages. The act is linked to re-structuring the forest lands of the islands and increase new settlements.

[2] The official number of horses before the killings were 1378. This did not included the horses who were brought into the islands through illegal means when their legal entrance was banned. The actual number of horses was estimated to be at least 1500 before the quarantine. The number provided by the authorities for the end of February is 1225.  Horses continue to die every day, the situation is not monitored by the authorities and civil bodies are not allowed into thestables.

[3] The Municipality borrowed 90 million Turkish Liras (13 thousand Euros) to buy all the horses and carriages of Istanbul’s islands.

[4] Many of the stables are built on state-owned land, previously rented by the Municipality, which at some point cancelled the lease contracts, preventing the areas to be utilized as stables anymore.

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