Proteus photo Gregor Aljancic Mediuma

One of the world's prime symbols of natural heritage and its history of research, known under the vernacular name "human fish" or the olm, Proteus anguinus, is a blind amphibian strictly endemic to the subterranean waters of Dinaric karst. It is the only European cave vertebrate, and the largest cave animal in the world.

Proteus is a globally threatened species. Although the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species defines it as vulnerable, and it is a priority species under both the Bern Convention (Appendix II) and the EU Habitats Directive (Annex II* and IV), no monitoring scheme for Proteus exists. Due to its high specialization to a narrow range of abiotic conditions in the subterranean environment, Proteus (and other groundwater organisms) is extremely vulnerable to direct and indirect alterations of its habitat. Recent negative human influences come from intensive agriculture, energy production, and unregulated urbanization. In Bosnia and Herzegovina these are reaching catastrophic proportions.

Reproduction of Proteus

 vonChauvin 1883 Proteus hatching Tular Cave Lab photo G Aljancic  Zeller 1889 Proteus larva
 Marie von Chauvin, 1883

Reproduction of Proteus [in Slovene]

(Gregor & Marko Aljančič, 1998; PDF 0,9MB)

 Ernst Zeller, 1889

Reproduction of Proteus (from the documentary “The Human fish or European cave salamander”, Slovenian Museum of Natural History, 2000)

Black Proteus

black proteus photo Gregor Aljancic

Proteus anguinus parkelj (photo: G. Aljančič).

This morphologically most distinct of all Proteus populations, discovered in 1986, is limited to the cave system behind of only ten karst springs in Bela Krajina, South East Slovenia, an area encompassing less than 30 km2. The black Proteus is indeed highly endangered; even a relatively small local pollution incident could have a devastating impact on the entire population, and thus its global existence.

Since 2002, seven of these extremely rare amphibians are maintained and studied in this laboratory. Support for an ex situ breeding program is urgently needed.

see Media:

Črna človeška ribica [The black olm]. M. Recek et al., O živalih in ljudjeh, RTV Slovenia/ TV Maribor, May 4, 2013 (watch @7:10')