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MAZIDAGI, Turkey: A sheep, lying on its back, struggled as a man approached to tie its udders, which had burned in a fire last month that killed hundreds of sheep in southeastern Turkey.
Since the fire, Hasan Kizil has been driving his van along hilly roads, treating traumatized animals and persuading farmers not to sell injured sheep to the slaughterhouse.
On June 22, fire engulfed the southeastern cities of Diyarbakir and Mardin, claiming 15 lives. Experts pointed to faulty wiring as a possible cause.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, more than 1,000 sheep and goats died in the fire, including those in the Mazidagi area, 36 kilometers (22 miles) from Mardin.
“Most of them had their eyes completely closed, too swollen to see in front of them,” said the 29-year-old, who largely taught himself how to care for the animals while treating burns around blackened hooves and udders.
“If it had gone on for a few more days, the spoiled milk would have caused septicemia,” he said, referring to bacterial blood poisoning. “We almost lost them.”
Kizil volunteers to visit farms every day to monitor animals and convince farmers to keep their damaged herds.
Caring for injured and unproductive animals is a heavy burden for the young farmer, who owes the bank 27,000 Turkish liras ($825), as well as paying for medicine and hay.
Former kebab seller Mehmet Celebioglu, 30 years old, took out a loan to buy 160 sheep and some goats. Now there are only about 40 of them left — sheep that cannot give milk and young goats that were orphaned by the fire.
“They were lying in the fields when the fire broke out. 120 sheep were burned on the spot. Their eyes melted … that’s all that’s left,” he said.
“My brothers risked their lives to save them,” added his 18-year-old sister Gulistan, recalling how the fire cut off electricity and water supplies as hot winds whipped through the hills.
But selling the remaining shares is not an option for Celebioglu, who is originally from Adana, a large city in the south.
“Are you selling them? They would pay me 2,000 to 3,000 lira,” he said.
“I learned this job for two years, but above all I love my animals.”

Victims of disasters
Farmers’ attachment to their sheep prompted Kizil to support them and help disaster victims, as he did after tending to injured animals after the massive earthquake that struck southeast Turkey in February 2023 and killed 55,000 people.
Now a local Instagram star, he’s known for making braces and prostheses for disabled animals. More than 240,000 followers follow his work in rehabilitating foxes, cats and injured birds.
Recalling the night of the fire, he said, “It was a battlefield around here.”
“The butchers tried to grab the wounded animals and slaughter them, and we tried to keep them alive.”
Images of the animals prompted veterinarians from several cities to volunteer to rush to the scene.
The municipality in the majority-Kurdish city of Diyarbakir took the injured animals into its shelter, while others were sent to clinics in Izmir (western Turkey), Adana and Istanbul.
“We are still struggling,” Kizil said in a region where agriculture and livestock are the mainstay of the economy.
As he anointed the black wounds on the sheep with ointment, he added: “If we manage to restore the udders, they will be saved.”

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