Raphael, a snow-white peacock, was rescued along with his two friends from being one of the courses at a wealthy businessman’s New Year’s Eve banquet last year. Now he walks around happily, ruffling his feathers in all their beauty. 

Then there’s Patrick. He is a giant bull, weighing more than a tonne. His strength and size once made him the champion of animal fairs, but after falling out of favour was marked for the slaughterhouse. Patrick was rescued just before being turned into pet food. Now he lives among not just cows and peacocks, but with camels, goats and donkeys. 

The Angels’ Farm Sanctuary is Turkey’s biggest animal shelter. Located in Kemalpaşa county, in western Turkey’s Izmir province, the farm provides a home for 1,600 animals from 107 different species. All had either been abandoned or were rescued from abuse or the threat of death. 

Sibel Çakır, a former healthcare worker, founded the sanctuary 25 years ago in Ankara. They moved to Izmir five years ago, after the original site was requisitioned by the government due to the risk of landslides.

The founder of the Angels’ Farm Sanctuary, Sibel Çakır. (Credit: Baha Okar)

“Every animal in here has a name and story,” Çakır told Inside Turkey. “Most of them are tragic. We hear that story, chase it, and strive for a happy ending.”

Çakır’s devotion to animals goes back to her childhood. “When I was a kid, I would steal chickens from the farmer’s market and build them shelters – until my mother caught me, that is,” she said. 

Çakır also recalled a lamb she looked after as a child. 

“It was following me just like a dog, we were walking to and from the school together.” 

After the lamb was sacrificed for Eid, Çakır swore never to eat meat again.

Now, Çakır visits the qurban markets – where animals are sold for Eid – looking for signs of mistreatment. “After first day of Eid, the municipal officials disappear [from the qurban markets],” she said. “Animals hidden in truck crates are brought to light. There are pregnant animals, or with offspring aged only one or two years old. That’s when the real slaughter begins. Animals that do not comply with the law and the sacrificial procedure are sold cheaply and slaughtered.”

Çakır and colleagues buy pregnant and young animals from the qurban markets and bring them to the sanctuary. On the farm, she points to a goat they rescued last Eid. It gave birth to triplets as soon as they took it out of the truck. The goat is now playing with her kids. 

Pregnant animals rescued from the qurban markets are now at the farm with their offspring. (Credit: Baha Okar)

Ferdinand, a majestic black bull, is almost as famous as the sanctuary – in fact, it’s sometimes known as “Ferdinand’s farm”. He was originally bought for sacrifice but escaped his owner by running into the Black Sea at Rize and swimming along the coast to Trabzon. Ferdinand was rescued by a foundation established by the pop star Haluk Levent, and entrusted to Çakır. Ferdinand has since had a calf with a cow, Yıldız, who arrived at the sanctuary around the same time.

Levent is a patron of the farm and often visits to look in on Ferdinand, telling people that it gives him great joy. Another of his favourite animals is Duygu, a horse who lost one of her legs in an accident. Now she wanders around the farm with a prosthetic leg. 

Çakır also offers shelter to domestic pets, such as cats and dogs that are abused by their owners or abandoned, as well as wild animals they find injured. 

“If they regain their health, we release them into nature; if they are disabled, we provide information to the necessary institutions and shelter them,” she said of the latter.

 Famous pop singer and philanthropist Haluk Levent with Duygu, a horse with a prosthetic leg. (Credit: Haluk Levent’s social media)

Sometimes, the moment of salvation begins with a photo seen on social media, or a phone call late at night. Çakır learned about Raphael the peacock through a young man working for a supplier of the businessman who intended to eat him. When Çakır asked to buy the peacocks, the businessman’s assistant demanded an exorbitant fee. They gathered the money from donations.

The sanctuary also houses pigs, rabbits, and rodents rescued from laboratories. Although experiments on animals are prohibited in the cosmetics industry, they continue to be carried out using various loopholes. According to the No Experiment Association, half a million animals are killed in cosmetic tests each year worldwide. 

Rescuing animals from these companies is a difficult task, Çakır said. She often resorts to threatening to expose corporations who break the rules, in order to get them to give up their animals. 

Ferdinand, a majestic black bull, is almost as famous as the sanctuary. (Credit: Haluk Levent’s social media)

Caring for 1,600 animals is expensive, and costs about 150,000 liras a month. Fifteen people work in the shelter in two shifts, while three veterinarians visit daily. The cost of feeding animals is a big item, but the main burden is veterinary expenses. 

“If you go to the vet for a single vaccine shot, you will not pay less than 100 liras, and we are constantly going for major operations and serious treatments,” said Çakır.

Donations are essential. Çakır is an active social media user, using the sanctuary’s accounts to seek money for rescue operations and medical treatment, and to give updates on the status of the animals. Some supporters contribute to the farm through the crowdfunding platform Patreon, while the sanctuary also makes money by producing and selling natural and organic products.

Large donations come from Levent’s foundation, as well as wealthy businesspeople and celebrities. But it’s the small donations from individuals – some students donate 15-20 liras a time from their pocket money – that Çakır finds the most touching. 

“Some people say ‘sister, this isn’t much,’ in embarrassment, but in reality it is so precious,” said Çakır. “It comes from the bottom of the heart, and they all have a part in the happiness of these animals.”

Angels’ Farm Sanctuary is the seventh-largest farm animal shelter in the world, but Çakır thinks support from the regional authorities is insufficient. 

Çakır with one of the rescued animals at Angels’ Farm Sanctuary. (Credit: Baha Okar)

“They are not fully aware of our significance for Izmir,” she said. “We take care of needy animals here. This is the municipality’s job. We shouldn’t have to knock on their door repeatedly, and they should take care of us. For example, if they employed a few people from nearby villages and provided us with personnel support, it would be a small thing for them but would save us a lot of trouble.”

Animal abuse continues to go unpunished in Turkey. An animal rights bill has been making its way through parliament, but still had not passed at the time of writing. In the meantime, it falls to people like Çakır to make the difference between life and death for thousands of animals – and to try and inspire others to do the same.