Since the Croatian Herpetological Society started the olm conservation project “PROTEUS” in 2011, we have hosted several very important meetings and round-table discussions within Croatia. This year, however, we were tasked with organising the first international olm workshop, bringing together scientists from Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
Through a lot of hard work, we organised for the workshop to happen on the 3rd and 4th of September in Ogulin. Ogulin was a great place to hold this workshop because most of the city is situated over Đula sinkhole cave system, where the olm is known to be present.
Even though the olm is only found in small parts of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are many scientists and experts working on this species – and we tried to gather as many as possible at the workshop. We wanted all of these people to share their knowledge and help us to make efficient conservation action plans in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The workshop was opened with greetings from the Mayor of Ogulin and the Director of the State Institute for Nature Protection. The Mayor highlighted that under the city of Ogulin there was the Đula-Medvedica cave system, in which the olm lives, and that we should protect this system. He then emphasised that institutions have to cooperate to solve the problems. After the opening remarks, I gave an introduction to the main goals and activities of the PROTEUS project, which my EDGE Fellowship is part of.
The workshop then proceeded with a very interesting lecture on the known distribution and condition of olm populations in Croatia given by Eduard Kletečki from the Croatian Natural History Museum in Zagreb. This was followed by Judit Vőrős from the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest. Dr. Vőrős spoke about current research on the population genetics of Croatian populations of the olm (part of the PROTEUS project). The secrets of cave diving and the possibilities for research using it were then presented by expert diver Petra Kovač Konrad from the State Institute for Nature Protection (Croatia) whilst Prof. Boris Sket from the Biotechnical Faculty in Ljubljana spoke about olm differentiation through its whole distribution, even indicating that Proteus anguinus may incorporate a number of so far undescribed species. Finally, Emina Šunje from the International University of Sarajevo gave a presentation on olm current status and distribution in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Gergely Balàzs from the NGO Caudata Hungarian Cave Research (Hungary) described several years of research in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Trebinje area).
Following the discussions, participants were taken to see the Đula sinkhole (Đula-Medvedica cave system). This sinkhole is around 40 m deep and it takes in the whole water discharge of the Dobra River. It is also the biggest entrance to the Đula – Medvedica cave system which is now known to stretch for more than 16 km.
The workshop concluded with an agreement that the first steps for further cooperation are now set and that with combined forces we should do everything to gather more information and to protect the olm in its subterranean habitats. I intend to be there every step of the way!
To learn more about Dušan’s EDGE Fellowship project on the olm, please visit his community page.