Villagers in the Black Sea province of Rize have been on the watch for bears exhuming bodies out of graves, blaming environmental projects that change the balance of nature and affect the habitat of the animals, which subsequently leads to their aggressive manners.
Hamit Karataş, a villager living in the Güneyce village of the İkizdere district, found a head on a road while he was driving on March 24 after initially assuming it was a big stone.
He immediately informed the village chief İsmail Hakkı Taşdelen about the situation and returned to the scene with other villagers.
After putting the head in a plastic bag, the villagers began checking all the graves one by one, visiting every house in villages as everyone buried the dead in their own gardens because there are no cemeteries due to geographical conditions.
When they approached the house of the village’s imam, who died two years ago, they found huge footsteps of a bear. The imam’s grave in the garden had been opened up and shattered.
The residents of Güneyce have been on the watch for bears since then. Neighbors in the Şimşirli village also joined them after the grave of a youth was looted three months ago by a bear.
“The body of the dead in Şimşirli was transferred to another place by his family after the bears exhumed it from the grave. However, the imam had no friends or relatives around him. We saw that his body was dragged 200 meters away the other day. It was a terrifying scene,” local journalist İsmet Kösoğlu told daily Hürriyet.
Some villagers watch the graves by lighting up fire, while some enclose wire fences around the graves.
In addition, the children of an old woman who died six months ago had opted to pour concrete on her grave and close it with a door.
According to the villagers, bears particularly target graves that have no one around, and so they initiated a voluntary watch system with riffles for the unclaimed graves.
“I have been here since I was born. I have never heard of such an incident neither here or in the neighboring villages,” Taşdelen said.
In addition, the villagers claimed that environmental projects such as the hydroelectric power plant (HES), with the purpose of changing watercourse and contamination, principally lead to this extraordinary situation.
When the bears could not adapt to the changing natural conditions after hibernation, they have started attacking the graves, the villagers said.
“No one wants to harm the bears. Otherwise, we would be fined around 18,000 Turkish Liras if we do so,” a villager from Güneyce, Halim Çankaya, said.