Longing for a Büyükada without horse cruelty

For years, horse and carriage was the only means of transport on the Istanbul Princess Islands. Many horses were overworked, for tourism. But recently animal activists have started protesting this mistreatment. Nowadays, horse power has largely turned into electrical power on the island.

Text and photos by Brendan McDade

On the south side of Istanbul lays the island of Büyükada, the biggest of the nine Princes’ Islands. You’re not allowed to ride a car on the island, as the roads on Büyükada are too narrow and steep. Instead, carriages pulled by horses have been used as a means of transport for many years on the island.

Recently, the number of complaints about the welfare of these carriage horses has increased a lot. Many citizens of the island, and animal welfare organizations have taken a stance against this.

Burce Orcan is an activist for Turkish animal welfare federation Haytap. “The horses on Büyükada aren’t fed well, and are living in very poor conditions”, says Orcan. In the first 8,5 months of 2019, already 170 carriage horses died, according to the Princes’ Islands municipalities official figures.

All of the horses on Büyükada are privately owned, and many die due to overwork and exploitation. “The owners of the horses don’t want to spend any money on the healthcare of the horses. When they get sick, they’re ditched and when they die, they get thrown into the sea”, Orcan explains.

Haytap has done a lot to combat the (ab)use of carriages pulled by horses. They’ve had many meetings with several government bodies to demand change. Proposals they’ve done include building tramway rails or replacing the horses with electric carriages. But those proposals were ignored for a long time.

About two years ago a protest was held by Haytap on the Princes’ Islands itself. The realization of this protest was not easy. “The government finally allowed us to protest, but the owners of the carriages weren’t in for this. During the protest we were scared that we’d get beaten up the whole way through”, Orcan exclaims.

But the efforts of Haytap and others haven’t gone unnoticed. The island of Büyükada is packed with all kinds of electrical carriages now. Horse carriages that look like they’ve been abandoned are still on the island, but the horses themselves are not to be seen to the same extent as before.

The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrim İmamoğlu, recently made the decision to remove the horse pulled carriages, and to replace them with electrical vehicles. This decision was made after 81 horses on Büyükada had died as a result of an infectious disease midway December 2019. Haytap and other organizations will be happy to see a future with no more horse carriages, and thus no more horse cruelty on Büyükada.