In 2018-2019, the Center for Bat Research and Conservation ran the project “Enhancing conservation efforts in the bat diversity hotspot of South-Western Romania”, conceived specifically for Romanian cavers. The project was financed by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and several activities took place with the imvolvement of our colleagues from the “Myotis Group” for Bat Conservation. The main objective of the project was to strengthen bat conservation efforts in south-western Romania through the training and active involvement of cavers.

The main target group of the project are cavers and caver clubs with current activity in the karst regions of Caraş-Severin, Mehedinţi and Gorj counties. But since initiating the project, we could not ignore the communication and information coming from cavers from other areas of the country. Thus, the scope of implementation of the project, although still with a strong focus on the mentioned counties, has extended from the Banat region to Transylvania.

The project activities were initiated through a workshop on the identification of bat species, a 3-day event where 15 caver colleagues participated, representing 6 caver clubs, 4 protected areas and a nature conservation organization. They obtained general information about bats, about identifying the typical bat species of the cave environment, about estimating the size of the colonies, as well as about aspects related to durable conservation of bats.

“The Speo-Alpin MH – CBRC collaboration has reinvigorated the relationship of our association with biologists, bat experts. This relationship has its foundation in the establishment of our association, which was for several the custodian of important caves in Mehedinți County. Collaboration begets progress, so the speo-chiro relationship must “give birth” to the joy of discovery, whether it’s a cave formation or a bat colony. The idea is that now we, cavers, can go to caves and are able to distinguish bat species, this is a “small plum”, that is a “big plum”, they are not just generally bats anymore. Besides that we can say interesting things to our children who accompany us in caves, about what bats eat, how they eat, how / when / where bats sleep.” – Amalia Raluca Dumbravă, Speo-Alpin MH

An essential component of the project were field trips with mixed teams, composed of bat researchers and cavers. The focus was on caves and other underground locations, where a bat assessment has not yet taken place. These trips took place in the main seasons of the bat life cycle, meaning in winter (during the hibernation period), in summer (during the nursery period), and in autumn (during the mating period).

In total, there were 84 separate actions (ie 84 underground visits), carried out in 70 different underground locations (caves, potholes, abandoned mine galleries). Of these, 47 locations were evaluated for bats for the first time. During field trips in Caraș-Severin, Mehedinți, Gorj, Hunedoara, Cluj and Bihor counties, the mixed chiro-speo teams observed 19 species out of the 32 present in Romania, and discovered 11 new colonies for science. Of these 11 colonies, six are of continental size and importance, with hundreds of bats of strictly protected species.

With the help of bat researchers, a horizon opened up to me, showing me the natural life of caves. I never thought that 300-500 bats could in a seemingly insignificant colony. I have seen large and small colonies, and I can now distinguish the most important bat species.” – Ferenc Pál, vice president, Cluj Amateur Cavers Club

Because cavers are the ones spending a longest time in the underground, they need to have a simple tool at their disposal, whith what they can easily identify bat species and estimate colony size. The project offered them this tool, in the form of a durable, indestructible ID key, with information about the most common species of caves. This ID key, elaborated in three languages ​​(Romanian, Hungarian and English) has already reached over 10 caver clubs accross the country.

In the end, the project directly involved over 20 caver colleagues from 7 different caver clubs. We also established official and focused partnerships with several caver clubs. The scientific results obtained throughout the project have already been presented at several conferences and congresses in the country and abroad. The authors of these presentations came from among bat researchers and cavers:

  • Cluj Biology Days, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
  • Congress of the Romanian Federation of Speleology, Șuncuiuș, Romania
  • National Bat Research Conference in Hungary, Alsódobsza, Hungary
  • 9th Karst Protection Symposium, Belgrade, Serbia

The effort to conserve the bats and bat colonies in caves must be a priority in a country like Romania, where we take pride in several of the largest bat colonies in Europe. The principles of responsible tourism and speotourism come in as support for those colleagues who really want to contribute to bat conservation. And the joint effort of the mixed chiro-speo teams can bring the number of continetally important bat colonies from Romanian caves to over 100.