The Istanbul Butterfly Farm in Beykoz is the very first butterfly farm in Turkey. Visitors interested in discovering the world of butterflies can go to the farm seven days a week. As can be imagined, the farm attracts many, notably children. You may come across children who see a butterfly for the first time in their lives and others scared of them. As soon as children enter the section where butterflies live they immediately scan the area. When a butterfly suddenly comes near to a child, he tugs at his friend's arm. The farm reminds the verses of famous Turkish poet Behçet Necatigil featured in the renowned award-winning movie "Kelebeğin Rüyası" (The Butterfly's Dream): "Maybe a butterfly is so happy with its dream / the butterfly does not want to wake up from it...." Children do not want to let go of this dreamy world, either. Butterflies land on the shoulders and heads of children as if they were in an attempt to leave their trace on earth in their short lives.The butterfly farm was founded by chemistry teacher Çiğdem Ünlü and her husband who is an academic, Nafiz Ünlü. They are devoted nature lovers and have visited every corner of Turkey and almost every country in Europe. They were impressed by the butterfly farm that they saw for the first time in British poet and dramatist William Shakespeare's birth place Stratford in the U.K. "We realized there are some things that we do not care about in Turkey are very valuable in other countries," said Nafiz Ünlü. "We felt as if we entered into a heaven once we saw all those colorful butterflies. We wanted children to learn more about butterflies and spend more time in nature," Çiğdem Ünlü continued.
After their visit to the butterfly farm in Stratford they began to think of initiating a similar project in Turkey. Although people around them said a farm full of butterflies is ridiculous, they rolled up their sleeves to realize their dream. Çiğdem Ünlü went to the U.K. to get training at a butterfly farm and after two years, the couple opened the doors of Turkey's first butterfly farm. "There are 55 butterfly species and 28 farms in the U.K; however, there are 420 butterfly species and only one butterfly farm in Turkey. This is what make me upset. Butterflies are imported from the Equatorial regions. It is possible to see the four stages of a butterfly: Egg, caterpillar, cocoon and butterfly," said Çiğdem Ünlü. The couple wanted to raise awareness toward butterfly protection when they took up this job. The sustainability of wildlife is significant for butterflies to protect their breed without any loss. Butterflies in the butterfly greenhouse are not taken from wildlife; instead they are specifically bred to be featured in farms all around the world.
The butterflies are like Çiğdem Ünlü's children. People are calling her "the mother of butterflies" or "the queen of butterflies." She looks after all the butterflies every day with utmost care. She also cares for the visitors but her "children" have a special place. "The most asked question is 'do butterflies only live for a day?' I tell them 'Of course not' and tell them about the Sultan butterfly. The Sultan butterfly which is from Adana migrates as far as Morocco but it is on the verge of extinction," said Çiğdem Ünlü. She also has good news for everyone: The Istanbul Butterfly Farm in Beykoz will grow bigger in the future.
Tuğba Akkaya, the biologist and tour guide of the farm, is the biggest supporter of Çiğdem Ünlü. She is on duty at 9:00 a.m. every day. Akkaya is in charge of the humidity and temperature of the greenhouse as well as the preparation of the nectar to feed the butterflies. We learned that butterflies love rotten oranges, bananas, kiwis and apples. "Of course, butterflies live for a period but I pick up dead butterflies every morning. I keep some of them because we are able to frame them to immortalize their beautiful wings. We have an emotional connection with butterflies," said Akkaya.
After arriving at the farm, a 20-minute video, "The Story of the Butterfly," is recommend to learn about butterflies' biological structure, camouflage, metamorphoses and lifecycle. Once visitors have enough information about butterflies, they begin touring around a climate-controlled butterfly greenhouse with a guide. Each phase of a butterfly's lifecycle, including egg, caterpillars, cocoons and maturity, can be observed live in this greenhouse. Visitors can take a walk among colorful butterflies flying around, tropical plants and flowers. When you are tired you can rest in Obur Tırtıl Cafe and treat yourselves to some snacks, hot and cold beverages or to a light lunch. You can also purchase butterfly-themed souvenirs. It is also possible to have a picnic, play in the open air and participate in the jungle safari at the farm covering a large area.