Conservation Goes Underground

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

cold, clear flowing waters. But people can easily deface and destroy the stalactites and stalagmites, scatter the endangered wildlife and dump toxic chemicals into the water of caves. Because of this, the biological and geologic features of these caves need special handling to ensure their protection. The Conservation Department closes many of them, some seasonally, some year-round, to conserve their fragile beauty.A cross section of the Ozarks today would show a network of caves like the holes in a chunk of Swiss cheese. The "cheese" is the limestone that lies under the surface of the Ozarks. Long ago while rivers cut the Ozarks from above, underground rivers were working at the landscape from below. Natural combinations of chemicals from soil, water and air formed acids that dripped onto the stone and carved tunnels throughout the region.Animals, such as the blind cavefish and crayfish, and many cave invertebrates, are adapted to spending their entire lives in caves. Pink planaria, pink flatworms that live in only one cave in the world, are animals that never leave their cave systems.Other animals spend only part of their lives in caves or cavelike environments. An unlikely group, including raccoons, bullfrogs and pigeons, finds shelter in caves but does not depend on them for food. And sometimes other animals arrive in caves by accident, such as fish or turtles that are washed in by floods.Thirty-one endangered bat caves and four Ozark cavefish caves are gated or fenced to protect them. Signs are posted at other caves, asking visitors not to enter them. Vandals sometimes break locks or destroy gates and fences and enter anyway. We hope that as people learn more about caves this needless vandalism will stop.Gray bats are an example of the harm that can be done by interlopers. During the summer months, gray bats raise their young in caves. If these bats are disturbed, they will take flight, and their young may fall to the cave floor, where they will die.Indiana bats are also vulnerable. Their population in Missouri has decreased by 40 percent in the past 10 years. The decline seems to have been caused by pesticide use, summer habitat loss and the loss of the cold, predator-free caves the bats need for hibernation.Bats put on weight during the summer months to sustain them during hibernation. Intruders may awaken hibernating Indiana bats. Half-an-hour awake costs the bat a month's worth of the

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