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With wildlife corridor, Turkey tackles an ecological crisis

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Onder Cirik, projects coordinator for KuzeyDoga, the wildlife charity founded by Mr. Sekercioglu that has spearheaded the corridor project, says that ecological awareness is poor. "People in Turkey have no idea of the importance of biological diversity and of how fast it is being lost."

When it comes to wildlife, Turkey has a lot to lose. Sitting astride one of the world's most biologically diverse nontropical regions, it hosts more known endemic species than all of Europe combined, with some 3,000 plants unique to the country.

New plants and animals are found at a rate faster than one a week. The Taurus ground squirrel was first discovered only in 2007. But as the economy booms – growing an estimated 8.3 percent last year – housing and roads are taking precedence over conservation.

Ecologists accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of striking down environmental safeguards whenever they conflict with its development plans.

Last August, the AKP abolished a network of independent protection committees, casting into doubt the future of 1,261 smaller nature reserves.

National and international environment groups have condemned a draft conservation law that they say aims to pave the way for development in other protected lands. And ecologists are concerned about a government irrigation and hydropower plan to create 4,000 dams, diversions, and hydroelectric power plants by 2023.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Forestry and Water Works said the government is more alert than ever to environmental issues. "Biological diversity is always endangered where there are human activities and climate change," he said. "But, compared with the past, sensitivity to this problem has increased."

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