Help save Vjetrenica
Unique cave threatened
Article published on 27 August 2008

by Irna

Several speleologists and scientists from Bosnia and Herzegovina have sent, a few weeks ago, a public petition to protect Vjetrenica; their text can be found here in English, and there in Bosnian.

Vjetrenica is a wonderful cave in the Popovo Polje, a karstic polje in the South of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Le Popovo Polje vu du village de Ravno
Popovo Polje seen from Ravno - Source
L’entrée de la grotte
The cave entrance - Source
Un des lacs souterrains
One of the subterranean lakes - Source

It’s quite a large cave: more than 6000 meters have been explored, with several subterranean lakes (one is 180 meters long); and it has been known since Antiquity (Pliny the Elder mentioned it in his Historia Naturalis) thanks to the strong cold wind it sends most part of the time, which gave it its name (vjetar = wind).

But what gives it its uniqueness is its biodiversity: when most caves on the planet harbour only a very small number of animal species, Vjetrenica has the unique characteristic of sheltering more than a hundred of them, and is probably the richest in the world in terms of biodiversity. Among these cave species, more than half are endemic in Popovo Polje, and some have their only known habitat in Vjetrenica.

Troglomysis vjetrenicensis - Crevette dont l’unique habitat est Vjetrenica
Troglomysis vjetrenicensis - shrimp found only in Vjetrenica - Source
Proteus anguinus Laurenti, "salamandre" endémique du Karst dinarique
Proteus anguinus Laurenti, endemic "salamander" of the Dinarid karst - Source

This biological wealth allowed Vjetrenica to be put on the tentative list of UNESCO world heritage by the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Beside this, the cave is also rich in palaeontology; in it were recently discovered interesting skeletons of bears and leopards.

However, Vjetrenica is seriously threatened, as well as most part of Popovo Polje karstic system. The threats come partly from endangering touristic projects for the cave (lights, tracks), and mostly from economic development projects which do not take into account the peculiarities of the karstic environment. Most dangerous for the cave and the karstic system are:
 the massive pumping of water from the springs or the groundwater that feed the cave;
 the quarrying activities that modify the karstic lanscape;
 the massive application of chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides) on the surface, that endangers the fragile cave species.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Popovo Polje is straddling the two "entities" of Bosnia and Herzegovina, i.e. the Republika Srpska and the (Croat and Bosniak) Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina; so that any collaboration to protect the karstic system (which ignores the political boundaries!) is very difficult. On the side of the Federation, where is located Vjetrenica cave, the absurd hyper decentralization resulting from the Dayton Agreement allows local oligarchies, eager for profitable development at all costs, to ignore both the international commitments of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the advice of the scientific authorities.

Two international organizations, the International Society for Subterranean Biology (SIBIOS-ISSB) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have contacted the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in order to have the threatening projects stopped, and replaced by more sustainable projects, respecting the unique characteristics of the cave. At the same time, an association of local speleologists has sent the international public petition mentioned above, and invite the citizens of the World to help protect this natural and biological treasure of all humanity.

If you wish, you can sign this petition online, and send supporting mails to

For more informations

About Vjetrenica: - The cave website in Bosnian and English, with a wonderful walkthrough and numerous scientific explanations. - Description, history, bibliography, in the database "Showcaves" (pdf) - A visit in Vjetrenica in 2005, by Neil Kell, specialist in cave lighting

About Popovo Polje: - An enormous file about Popovo Polje on the excellent website "Devonkarst"; extremely abundant informations about the polje (history, geography, geology, biology, political questions...) with very nice photographs - On the same website "Devonkarst", a complete file on a project to preserve the endangered species Proteus Anguinus and its karstic habitat

About the present state of Vjetrenica : (doc) - The letter sent by SIBIOS-ISSB and IUCN to the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina