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Olm (Proteus anguinus)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 12253971

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 12253971) - Olm - Awarded $8,000 on June 27, 2012

Olm (Proteus anguinus) is one of the very rare European vertebrate species, and the only amphibian species, who have managed to adapt to cave environment. It lives 300 meters below the surface, reside in absolute darkness and as such have developed a powerful sensory system of smell, taste, hearing and electro-sensitivity.

It is only found in the area of the Dinaric karst, where it is a native endemic species, spreading from north-eastern Italy, through southern Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to IUCN Red list it is assigned as vulnerable species, but its conservation status is very poorly known due to its inaccessible habitats. 

MBZ Fund has recognized our efforts of extreme conservation, and followed us into the deep darkness of Croatian underground. Our team works in one of the last unknown places of Europe where you can still be the first man to explore. Through this project we visited caves that no one has ever seen before, because you needed to dive for several hundreds of meters to reach them. But even there we found traces of pollution and garbage from the above ground. Olm and other rare and sensitive cave animals are highly threatened by pollution and we are not even realizing it because they live out of our sight. Through this project we shad some light on ever growing problem of pollution of Croatia's underground water supplies. We managed to estimate some of the largest populations of olm and with it pinpointed the areas for strict protection.

The aim of this project is to develop protocols to enable monitoring of the olm and its underground habitat throughout Croatia and across its range. At the same time, its threats will be investigated and education/awareness-raising activities will be undertaken. 


Given the heat and lack of rainfall, mid-summer is a perfect time to search for olm in Croatia. The team visited several caves known to be home to olm, diving along transects, taking water samples, and setting underground water data loggers. Along one 80 m subterranean transect the team recorded more than 200 olm. The most recorded was Markarova cave system with more than 270 individuals. 

So far project team had also participated in the filming of BBC documentary Attenborough Ark. Prime target was the olm and its underground water habitats. We also organized the first international olm workshop in the city of Ogulin. On this workshop we gathered experts from Croatia and whole region to discuss about olm research and conservation.

Project 12253971 location - Croatia, Europe