When he’s not working, writer and former UK journalist STEVE PARSLEY spends quite a bit of time walking the woods around Fethiye with four-legged companion Dillon and posting their discoveries on Facebook.
Fethiye Times asked if he would share some of his encounters with the local wildlife with us – and, this week, we have a bit to share on tortoises.
The Time of Tortoises
If you walk anywhere in the forests around Fethiye at the moment, there’s a good chance you’ll hear what sounds like a couple of coconuts being knocked together.
There’s no particular rhythm to it and it’ll probably be sporadic but, if you stop to listen, it’ll be quite persistent. If you’ve not heard it before, your instinct will no doubt be to take a closer look.
If you do, what you’ll probably find is a couple of tortoises, the smaller of the two butting the other’s shell quite vigorously – at least until they notice you, when all activity will cease as they both withdraw into their carapaces and wait patiently for you to leave.
But what you disturbed was not a David-and-Goliath battle over territory. It was the tortoise equivalent of courting, the smaller male hoping to prove his virility to the female. If he’s successful, then a surprisingly agile and vocal mating procedure begins.
Stumble on that, and there’s no doubt what’s happening; personally, I’ve found it’s a bit like accidentally walking in on your grandparents in an intimate moment; it’s a little embarrassing but you can’t help being impressed they’re still capable. And, at the moment – with the weather getting warmer and food supplies plentiful – it’s an ever-present risk on our daily walks in the woods around Kayaköy.
Tortoises in Turkey spend much of the winter months buried beneath leaf mould or loose soil in the forest only emerging while the euphorbia is in full bloom and immediately beginning their single-minded hunt for a mate.
There are predators for them to consider – dogs, foxes, badgers and larger birds of prey for example – but most of them are more of a threat to a juvenile than an adult. The greater risk every tortoise faces is that they’re hit by a car crossing the road.
But, once they’re successful in finding a partner, that noisy mating ritual begins with the sound of knocking shells. Afterwards, the female may also demonstrate dominant behaviour, even mounting other females as she prepares to lay her eggs in the hope that she’ll be left in peace when the time comes.
The young then hatch a couple of months later, before the tortoise population lapses back into a torpor in the fierce heat of the summer. Another briefer period of activity resumes in the autumn months as tortoises search for winter lodgings although a sighting is always possible if any are disturbed, either by activity around them or flooding after heavy rain.
Obviously, if you come across one upside down, it’s in big trouble and probably would appreciate a helping hand righting itself but, generally, a tortoise will try to dissuade you from picking it up.
Its first defence is camouflage of course – surprisingly effective when combined with a rock-like stillness – but they will also hiss if they feel threatened. Their beak-like mouths, sharp claws and thick skin can also be a deterrent to any animal which gets too close.
But their ponderous movement and sheer numbers make them one of the easier local species to photograph – at least if you have the time to allow them to overcome their shyness and re-emerge from their shell.
And, for me, the tortoise has not only become one of the harbingers of the summer but a bit of a Turkish touchstone. As they’re not something you’d see lumbering across the road in the UK, they still represent a more Mediterranean way of life for me – not just in their appearance but sometimes in their lack of speed.
Rebecca & Steve Parsley are both former journalists with experience in newspapers, magazines and on radio. Since 2006 they have run their own communications agency, specialising in social media and online content writing. They moved to Turkey just over three years ago and live in Kayaköy with their German Shepherd dog, Dillon – formerly a street dog – and two cats. When not slaving over their keyboards or walking in the local countryside, they enjoy watching motorsport – especially Formula 1 – and are also salsa dance addicts.