Did you know that caves represent unique ecosystems in which the cave fauna adapts to live in complete darkness, high air humidity and a scarce amount of nutrients?
On a typical sunny day, our group of speleologists, led by local explorer Naume Pechenkovski, ventured up the slopes of the Galicica mountain in the Ceramushana area. They were looking for a cave entrance which Naume has known about since 1979. Learning that the Exploring Society Ursus Speleos – Skopje and the Red Cross of Ohrid were supported by PONT to explore caves, Naume decided to share the secret and reveal the entrance. He had already given the cave a name, Clara’s Hole, inspired by his own nickname, Clara.
Upon reaching the entrance, the speleologists encountered a narrow opening. They prepared their equipment and wondered if it was simply a fissure widened by rainwater. They went down 3 metres in depth and suddenly a real underground karst relief form opened up in front of them. Clara’s Hole is 20 metres deep and it is formed in limestone that is more than 200 million years old (Triassic period). It is rich in well-conserved calcite deposits. Flowstone and coralloids (popcorn) are the most common speleothems which are white and yellow in color. Stole Mishev and Berker Samet, the speleologists from NGO “Ursus speleos”, are the first people to have visited this extraordinary ecosystem.
Excitement grew when they saw two bat colonies! The Lesser Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) was detected by the bat detector with more than 50 individuals of bats being registered in the cave. Clara’s Hole has the largest number of this bat species in Galicica National Park. The Lesser Horseshoe Bat is one of the smallest bats found in the Republic of North Macedonia, and weighs 4–9g with a wingspan of 225–250 mm. It has soft, fluffy brown fur, small strong feet and very broad, rounded wings, with which it wraps itself during hibernation. The Lesser Horseshoe Bat is a common species throughout the country and is known to roost in caves, as well as other natural or artificial underground sites, and even in old houses, churches, and larger buildings. During summer, most individuals of this species form colonies primarily composed of females. It forages along the edges of broadleaf deciduous woodland, riparian vegetation and shrubland. The Lesser Horseshoe Bat is categorised as near threatened (NT) according to the European Red List of threatened species.
Maintaining an inventory of caves is an important tool for assessing the number of caves, cave-dwelling species, and the overall condition of cave ecosystems. With the ongoing grant from PONT to the Red Cross of Ohrid and Ursus Speleos, we are confident that over the next two years, we will uncover more hidden marvels within Galicica National Park. Our aim is to convey their scientific and natural significance to the local communities and the general public and help preserve these valuable ecosystems and the species they support.
Exploring society “Ursus speleos”-Skopje
Biljana Gichevski – karstologist
Aleksandar Stojanov – biologist