Wildlife of Lycia, Conservation, National Parks


Lycia once abounded with wildlife.  George Sharf, who travelled with Charles Fellows, tells us that in the places the group passed through in Lycia, all the local men carried guns for defense against bears, wolves, leopards and lions.  Many reliefs on Lycian tombs depict hunting scenes.  (as can be seen on this spectacular sarcophagus at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum of a boar hunt).  The last bears and wolves were exterminated only recently, but live in other parts of the country.

Lions were an important feature in Lyican tomb art and Charles Fellows commented, "The lion is seen everywhere throughout the valley of the Xanthus; every bas-relief, tomb, seat or coin, shows the figure of limbs of this animal.  Lycia was within the historical range of the Asiatic lion, now they are an endangered species living in small pockets in India, Iraq, Iran and North Africa.  Regarding the people living in Lycia in 1840, Sharf tells us that "upon average they took five lions a year, which are presented to the Ağa (local lord), and ultimately find their way to Constantinople, where they fetch a high price." 

The nearly-extinct Anatolian leopard also once lived in Lycia.  This was the species used by the Romans in their bloody gladiator fights and traps constructed for the capture of these cats can still be seen scattered throughout the Taurus Mountains, known locally as "tiger-traps."  It seems that these cats, originally thought to be extinct, may be surviving in a small pocket in the Kackar Mountains of the Black Sea Region and in the eastern Taurus Mountains.

The Caracal (also called the Persian Lynx), a small wildcat, probably also lived in the Lycian region.  It still survives today in the Taurus Mountains near Antalya, but is in danger of extinction because of uncontrolled hunting.  The name "caracal" comes from the turkish phrase "kara kulak" meaning "black ear."

The herdspeople living in Patara prior to the 1950's reported that the area was home to "jackals and mosquitoes" and Charles Texier who visited Patara in 1836 complained of being unable to sleep due to "the horrible echoes of the jackals."  Today the jackals have mostly disappeared from Lycia (they still live in the Olimpos Beydaglari National Park, perhaps other parts).


Lycian coin depicting a wild pigAlthough these species are gone, there are still plenty of animals in Lycia.  Deer and wild goats Capra aegagrus remain (a wild goat was even seen on the mountain side above Kalkan), as do badgers, porcupines, rabbits, red and persian squirrels, lynx, plenty of tortoises, lots of lizards including chameleons.  Other animals I have seen are hares, wild pigs, many foxes and some beech martens that live around our house in Kalkan - we sometimes hear them chattering at night.  Last summer, one fellow cheerfully bounded alongside our car as we drove up the hill to our house!  I know porcupines live around here as well, since my curious cat returned home sprouting a back full of quills one day.

Logger head sea turtle (caretta caretta)Monk seals are unfortunately not seen along Lycia's shores anymore, but dolphins can sometimes be spotted (I've seen groups of them in Kalkan Bay) and endangered sea turtles (Loggerhead and sometimes Green) have an important nesting site at Patara Beach (pdf).  The sea is full of interesting marine life, which you can see here.


European bee eaterLycia is not on the main bird migration route, but it still has plenty of bird life and many birds are year-round residents due to the mild climate.  Spring is the best time for bird watching.

Two rare birds found in Lycia are the wall creeper, which picks its way up gorge walls usually at a high altitude but lower during the winter and the huge Smyrna kingfisher.  These kingfishers are found in eucalyptus plantations near water.

HoopoeA comprehensive list of birds in Lycia from the Lycian Way website.

These pages may also be useful - long lists and descriptions of birds (including recorded birdsongs) of the neighboring Antalya region, which shares many species with Lycia: Resident Birds, Summer Visiting Birds and Winter Visiting Birds.



Some plants found in Lycia include: pine, cedar of Lebanon, juniper, plane trees, oak, olive, carob, bay, wild strawberry trees, Judas trees, broom, citrus trees, oleander, pomegranate, bougainvillea, figs, tamarisk, Eucalyptus, maquis along the coast, sea squill, poppies, daisies, anenomes, snowdrops, gladiolius, cyclamen, iris, jonquils, thyme, oregano, daphne, myrtle, tulips, fritillaries, hyacinths and crocus.

Lycia is home to the special tree liquid amber tree, also known as sweetgum.  This tree once covered North America and Eurasia during the Cretaceous, Tertiary, Pleistocene and Eocene periods.  Today four species grow natively only in Anatolia (Liquiamber orientalis), the USA and China.  The tree resembles maple or plane trees and produces a fragrant oil from which it derives its name: the Latin word Liquidus (liquid) and the Arabic word Amber (perfumed).  Extraction of the oil is carried out from mid-July to the end of October.  It is a good antiseptic and parasite-killer and if internally consumed, is used for respiratory problems such as the asthma and bronchitis as well as blennorrhea and fluoalbus. As a pomade and plaster, it is effectively cures dermatological ailments like acne, eczema, psoriasis and fungal diseases. It is also used in the perfume and soap industry, for its solution in alcohol acts as a fixator in maintaining the stability of the scent of perfumes. It can be used to scent tobacco as well.  A residue obtained during the production of the liquid amber oil is burned as incense in mosques and churches.  Liquid Amber oil was also used in ancient times and was traded by the Phoenicians.  The ancient Egyptians used it in mummy preparation.  The scent is described as rich and almond-like, but not overly sweet and with an undertone of vanilla.  If you are driving to a destination south of Dalaman Airport you may pass the beautiful, aromatic Liquid Amber plantation just outside of Dalaman.  It is especially beautiful in spring.

Lycia has many species of orchids - visit the Lycian Way website's list here.


Some Conservation Organizations in Turkey

Doğa Derneği (in English) - envisions a world where human societies live in harmony with nature, and, therefore, nature conservation is no longer needed.  DD aims to protect Turkey's threatened species, starting with birds, Important Bird Areas, Key Biodiversity Areas and priority habitats, through a national grassroots network.

Turkish Zero Extinction Fund (in English) - map of Turkey's key biodiversity areas, including Lycia. 

Both organizations are supported by many organizations, including the European Commission.

An article from birdlife.org:

Doga Dernegi has formed a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forestry to establish a national fund to halt biodiversity decline.

The Turkish Zero Extinction Fund will carry out priority conservation actions in the 305 Key Biodiversity Areas identified by Doga Dernegi.  More...

National Parks in Lycia

Patara National Park

Patara National ParkThe Patara area - its stunning 12 km-long beach (voted one of the top beaches in the world by Times Online, Best of 2005), its dunes, marshes and the ancient site of Patara - is a national park and a key biodiversity area.  It has rich birdlife and is the breeding ground of the endangered loggerhead turtle (caretta caretta).  Luckily the beach has been declared off-limits for development because of the turtles, they are nearing extinction and protection of their nesting sites on the Turkish coast is very important. 

List of birds spotted in Patara

Patara was declared a Specially Protected Area in 1990.  Its surface area is 190 km² and is managed by the Ministry of Environment, Authority for the Specially Protected Areas. 

Patara is a short drive from the town of Kalkan and is a little bit further from Kaş.  Dolmuşes (shared minibuses) run here from Kalkan.  Tours visit from major resort areas.

Termessos-Gulluk Dağ National Park

Wild goats, TermessosThe Lycian site of Termessos is set in a beautiful national park, 34 km northwest of Antalya and can be reached via the Antalya – Korkuteli highway.  Gulluk Mountain rises just after travertine steps which form large plains north of Antalya.  The ancient site itself is one of the most spectacular sites in Turkey because of its stunning location on the slope of Mt. Gulluk overlooking a valley, described by one Termessos-lover as the "Machu Picchu" of Turkey.  I've been there myself and it is, indeed, a lovey place.

The park is rich with plant and wildlife with some rare species including wild goats, roe deer and the shah eagle.  A canyon within the park, Mecine Canyon, has walls that are 600 metres high.

According to Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the park has an area for tents and caravans as well as some restaurants.  A visitor's center at the park entrance has detailed information about the area.

Here is an excellent website about Termessos by somebody who really loves the site.  Links to just about anything you could want to know about the place.

Olimpos Beydaglari National Park

Cirali BeachThis gorgeous park consists of the Tahtali Dag Mountain (Mt. Olympos - 2,366 metres at its peak), an extension of the regionally dominant Bey-Daglari mountain range, and the Saricinar Dag mountain. The park is bordered by the sea to the east and south with a coastline formed by precipitous cliffs or long, narrow sandy beaches below the Bogaz plateau.  Vegetation is markedly altitudinal rising from coastal maquis and pine woods to montane cedar forest and alpine steppe.

The park includes the entire peninsular from Yardimci Burnu in the extreme south, Kumluca town in the southwest thence the boundary follows the Altinyaka road northwards to include the entire Tahtali Dag massif and Saricinar Dag mountain. The boundary line rejoins the main route 400 approximately 12km south of Antalya. In the east the boundary follows the Mediterranean coastline for 138km and extends offshore for one nautical mile (0.5 km).  The park crosses the Antalya – Kemer – Kumluca state highway. The road is part of the Mersin – Antalya – Mugla sea road.

ChimaeraSpecies recorded recently include: jackal, wild boar, fox, lynx, beech marten, wild goat, rabbit, European tree frog, sea turtles and the rarely-seen Agama stellioher lizard.  Bird species include sparrowhawk, magpie, raven, quail, turtle dove, wood pigeon, bittern and crane. 

The Lycian sites of Phaselis and Olympos (once pirate bases) are within the park and in the mountains 13 km west of Olimpos, near Cirali, is an unquenchable natural gas flame that has been burning for thousands of years.  It is said to be the mythological Chimaera monster which in legend was slain by Bellerophon on his winged Pegasus.  Olympos and Cirali village are great places for alternative travellers to visit and night tours are run to see the Chimaera or "burning rocks."  The flame is also related to Hephaistos (god of the forge), of which Olympos was the sacred precinct. Mt. Olympos (Tahtali Dag) is also the place where, according to Plutarch, pirates once "offered strange sacrifices" and "performed certain secret rites" to the god Mithras.

Cirali BeachOlympos village is located in a valley and is famous for its ''treehouse'' accommodation.  It tends to cater to younger crowd than Cirali, with backpackers and budget accomodations. Cirali caters to a quieter crowd with only a few local bars playing live turkish music and is a good place for families.  It has a protected status that has spared it from major touristic development so that no big hotels nor commercial centers have been built.  Its population actively participates in the conservation of the area, including the protection of its sea turtles.

The two villages share Cirali Beach, which is about 3-4 km long and is surrounded by beautiful forest-covered mountains.  It is a gorgeous place.

The Cirali website

Article from the the World Wildlife Fund about Cirali:

In Çirali, a coastal community on the south-western Anatolian coast of Turkey, WWF has created a successful model of sustainable tourism, with the local community actively participating in conservation activities and reaping economic benefits from their environment... more


Kekova-Simena is not a national park, but has been declared a Specially Protected Area in 1990 to protect the natural, cultural and geographic richness of the Kekova Island and surrounding coast. The Kekova Specially Protected Area is 260 km² and is managed by the Ministry of Environment, Authority for the Protection of Special Areas.