Lecture: Proteus protection project in Croatia
Croatia as part of Dinaric karst is one of the hotspots for cave biodiversity in the World. New species of cave animals are still discovered on regular basis in over 10 000 recorded caves in Croatia. In the past 10 years cave divers of Caving club Željeznicar from Croatia have been doing intensive cave diving research in numerous caves. In their explorations they came across a unique cave vertebra, the biggest predator in European caves, Proteus anguinus. Proteus lives in underground waters of Dinaric karst, from Italy, through Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and is the only European troglobiont vertebrate. Although Proteus was studied in laboratories in France, Germany and Slovenia there is still no sufficient data on Proteus behaviour in the subterranean environment observed directly by cave-divers. Almost no information is gathered deeper than 40m until exploration in cave Zagorska Peć to 120m depth. For 5 years through a project funded by MAVA foundation, National park Krka, Croatian electricity company (HEP), also supported by Aqualung and conducted by Association Hyla, cave divers are studying behaviour and population distribution of Proteus on 6 different locations in Croatia. Since then Vedran Jalžić, Branko Jalžić, Petra Kovač Konrad and Dušan Jelić started some basic research in the caves to try to establish the size of population in 6 caves, maybe get some insight in why Proteus prefers only one part of cave system, why some individuals have their „special place“, what are the stress factors etc.