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MAZIDAGI, Turkey: Lying on its back, a sheep struggled as a man approached to bandage its udders, which were burned in a fire last month that killed hundreds of sheep in southeast Turkey.
Since the fire, Hasan Kizil has been driving his van on hilly roads, treating traumatized animals and persuading farmers not to sell injured sheep to slaughterhouses.
On June 22, a fire engulfed the cities of Diyarbakir and Mardin in the southeast of the country, claiming 15 lives. Experts pointed to faulty wiring as a possible cause.
More than 1,000 sheep and goats died in the fire, according to the agriculture ministry, 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 mostly taught himself how to care for the animals while treating burns around blackened hooves and udders.
“If it had continued for a few more days, the spoiled milk would have caused septicemia,” he said, referring to bacterial blood poisoning. “We almost lost them.”
Kizil voluntarily visits the farms every day to monitor the animals and convince the farmers to keep their damaged herds.
Caring for injured and unproductive animals is a heavy burden for the young breeder, who owes 27,000 Turkish lira ($825) to the bank while paying for medicine and hay.
Former kebab seller Mehmet Çelebioğlu, in his 30s, went into debt to buy 160 sheep and a few goats. Now only about 40 remain — female sheep that cannot produce milk and young goats orphaned by the fire.
“They were lying in the field when the fire broke out.” 120 sheep were burned on the spot. Their eyes were melting… this is 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 raged over the hills.
But selling the remaining shares is not an option for Çelebioglu, originally from Adana, a large city in the south.
“Sell them? They would pay me 2,000 to 3,000 lira,” he said.
“I spent two years teaching myself this business and I love my animals most of all.”

Disaster victims
Farmers’ attachment to their sheep encouraged Kizil to support them and reach out to disaster victims, as he did after treating injured animals after a powerful earthquake struck southeastern Turkey in February 2023, killing 55,000 people.
Now a local Instagram star, he’s known for making braces and braces for disabled animals. More than 240,000 followers follow his work on the rehabilitation of foxes, cats and injured birds.
Recalling the night of the fire, he said: “This was a battlefield.
“The butchers were trying to grab the wounded animals and slaughter them, and we were trying to keep them alive.”
The images of the animals prompted veterinarians from several cities to voluntarily rush to the scene.
The municipality in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakır 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.
Applying ointment to the black sores on the female sheep, he added: “If we can get the udders back, this will be saved.

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