Sunday, 3 September 2017

How Slovenia is helping its ‘baby dragons’


The eyeless subterranean salamanders that live in the watery depths of Postojna Cave are under threat – but there’s hope in sight

Robin McKie
Sunday 27 August 2017 10.30 BST

Postojna Cave in Slovenia is one of Europe’s longest cave networks and one of the world’s most spectacular subterranean tourist sites. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come here every year to gaze at its wonders: its huge stalactites and stalagmites, its curtains of coloured rock and bridges that have been carved out of the local limestone by the river Pivka over millions of years.

Given such glories, it is not surprising that few tourists take note of the two concrete huts draped with black polythene that have been erected in a shadowy alcove in one obscure part of the 24km-long labyrinth. But the huts contain wonders of their own. In racks of trays of water, scientists have placed specimens of one of the world’s strangest creatures: the blind aquatic salamander Proteus anguinus – or olm, as it is known locally. It constitutes a project that could have profound implications for the future of these remarkable creatures.

Slovenia is extremely proud of its remarkable little blind salamander which featured on the country’s pre-Euro coins

“We now have 21 baby olms flourishing in our trays,” said Primoz Gnezda, a biologist working in Postojna Cave. “For the first time we have witnessed the hatching of proteus larvae – and, after one year, they are all healthy. And that gives us hope we can save our olms for the future.”

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