In search of an elusive olm

The olm (Proteus anguinus) was always one of the animals I wanted to see. It lives only in this part of the world but it is rarely seen by people as it lives underground. It can only be found in the karst caves starting from Soča near Trieste all the way to Hercegovina. It rarely gets out of the caves and only if the floods bring it out. In appearance, it is a strange, almost lizard like animal and, because of it’s skin color that resembles the color of the human skin, it is also known in these areas as a “human fish”.  It was first mentioned in 1689 by a local naturalist Valvasor describing that after heavy rains, the olms were washed up from the underground and made locals believe they saw a cave dragons’ offspring.

Olm - photo from the internet
Olm – photo from the internet

So, being a member of “Špiljar” Caving club from Split, I asked Mr. Tonči Rađa if it would be possible to see the olm. Luckily, olm lives only few miles from Split. In Dugopolje.
One August afternoon, we all got together, got the equipment and headed north to Đuderina jama cave. The cave is nothing special but has one very narrow section and the olm is usually hidden way deep. In a small, natural lake. The olm was first found here in 1979.

Nata entering the cave
Nata entering the cave

The cave is not too deep – only few meters at the entrance and then few more to get to the lower level. We used ropes and 100 years old rope ladder that belonged to Split’s first cavers! Since some of us were not experienced cavers, that ladder came in quite handy!

The 100 years old wire rope ladder
The 100 years old wire rope ladder

The cave is nothing special – very few cave decorations can be seen.

Going in...
Going in…

We had to get on our knees and then slide through some muddy sections to get to the part of the cave with the olm. But before that, we had to slide through a very narrow section, In some parts, it was so narrow the helmet could barely go through…

Getting through a narrow section
Getting through a narrow section

After all this, we finally reached the part of the cave where olm lives. It is a narrow passage – just for one person – all the way to the small lake. But, we were not lucky to see it… Despite all the rain this summer, the small lake in the cave was almost dry- The olm has retreated deeper to the underground, to the narrow streams and rivers where it normally hides.

So, it was time to go back and hope that some other time we will be more lucky and finally see it. It is quite common in the caves in this area so it should not be too long before we get o see it in real life.

Also, important notice – caving is only for people with permits and with experienced, licensed members of local caving clubs. And don’t forget, the olm is a protected animal!