How the Princes Islands lost their famous horse-drawn carriages

This article by Asya Robbins was originally published on inews, December 26, 2021. Please follow the link to read the full article.

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Former carriage driver Koray Kayaoğlu, from the island of Burgazada, with his horse Şahin (Photo: Tulay Ilhan)

How the Princes Islands lost their famous horse-drawn carriages after incidents of animal cruelty

The horses are now in limbo, and their future is still being debated after the tourist attraction was banned following animal rights abuses

The Princes Islands are known for their horse-drawn carriages, which were the main mode of transportation in the small archipelago off the coast of Istanbul from the early 20th century until just a couple of years ago.

The tradition gave the car-free cluster of nine islands in the Marmara Sea their unique culture: a slow pace of living in a picturesque landscape where carriage driving was a respected vocation and horses were treated with reverence.

In 2019, there were approximately 1,700 horses working on the islands. Now there are only around 100 left.

By the 2000s, the archipelago was a popular tourist destination, and hundreds of horses and carriages were bought by opportunists who employed low paid seasonal workers to drive them. This severed the relationship between horse and driver in what had become a low-margin business operation, animal rights activists say, with the profit-focused approach leading to many horses being maltreated and overworked, and often dying.

While islanders and activists voiced concerns, the cruelty continued year after year until December 2019 when it reached breaking point. A severe outbreak of Glanders disease – an infectious and often deadly illness mainly seen in horses – changed everything. One hundred and five infected horses were killed and buried in just one night.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the holes they had dug up to bury them, they were gargantuan. We knew then that this was a turning point,” said Sevil Baştürk, an islander and animal rights activist.

The remaining horses were immediately banned from working, and quarantined for months without any time outdoors to exercise. Asli Demir, a horse enthusiast and activist, said the inactivity was debilitating.

“They started to get sick, their legs were swollen, their intestines became knotted, and they were injuring each other with spasmodic kicking,” she said.

Activists and islanders were furious and demanded that the horses be released. But almost 700 died from inactivity and neglect during time spent in quarantine. Pressured by the protests, and seemingly baffled about what to do with the horses, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality announced an end to the horse and carriage service in February 2020, bringing a century-long business to an abrupt end.

The municipality began buying the remaining horses from their owners and “rehoming” them in farms across Turkey. Zekiye Kürkçüoğlu, from civil society group Adalarin Atlari (Horses of the Islands), claims that many horses died during the transportation. “The combination of stress, heat and exhaustion led to many also dying upon arrival,” she said.

Adalarin Atlari has been trying to trace where each horse was sent, and their condition, but with little success. The group claims that the process has been poorly managed and non-transparent.

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This article was originally published on inews, December 26, 2021. Please follow the link to read the full article.

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