Royal attention shines spotlight on creatures of the dark

This week, HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands paid a visit to the Holy Cave of Giri Putri with her husband and three children to experience the natural and cultural wonders of this special place, and to learn more about plans to ensure that its wildlife can thrive alongside the people who visit the cave’s temples.

Regarded as a spiritual site, the Giri Putri cave attracts many thousands of Balinese Hindu worshippers each year. But alongside its many visitors, the cave is also home to a variety of wildlife that is suffering as a result of human activities designed to accommodate the visitors (including two crabs found nowhere else on earth).

Princess Laurentien. Credit: Friends of the National Parks Foundation.

Princess Laurentien visiting the Holy Cave of Giri Putri. Credit: Friends of the National Parks Foundation.

Dramatic changes

Dr Tony Whitten, Asia-Pacific Regional Director at Fauna & Flora International (FFI), first visited Giri Putri in 1993 and discovered the crabs which were new to science. He has returned every few years since.

He says the cave has changed enormously in that time with concrete walkways and benches added as well as a ventilation system and permanent lighting. Natural rock pools have also been filled in with rubble.

On the surrounding hillside, deforestation means that less water is trickling through into the cave, and poor waste management is polluting other water sources feeding it.

All of these changes are putting pressure on Giri Putri’s wildlife – particularly the two endemic crab species, which need damp conditions to survive and appear to have suffered catastrophic declines as a result of the changes to their habitat.

Giri Putri cave has changed enormously. Credit: Tony Whitten/FFI.

Giri Putri cave has changed enormously since 1993. Credit: Tony Whitten/FFI.

Changing fortunes

The visit by Fauna & Flora International’s President, HRH Princess Laurentien, coincided with the formal announcement of a new cave management plan, put together by scientists in cooperation with the local temple committee, which aims to address these threats while also allowing pilgrims to continue to worship there.

The plan forms part of an FFI project, supported by SOS – Save Our Species (a joint initiative of IUCN, the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank), to raise awareness of the plight of Giri Putri’s crabs and to turn their fortunes around.

Proposed measures include fencing off water pools rather than filling them in, improving waste management, switching to motion-activated LED lighting, and using exhaust fans to reduce cave temperature and carbon dioxide levels.

Encouragingly, the temple committee now recognises that Giri Putri is not only a temple cave but also a sensitive biological site, and is already taking steps to manage the cave more sustainably, all of which will be supported by the formal management plan.

Meanwhile, visitors to Giri Putri will also be able to learn more about the unique biodiversity of the cave (and how they can reduce their impacts) thanks to a new educational signboard that has been set up at the cave entrance.

Giri Putri cave crab. Credit: Tony Whitten/FFI.

Giri Putri cave crab. Credit: Tony Whitten/FFI.

“The work happening here perfectly exemplifies FFI’s conservation efforts around the world,” said HRH Princess Laurentien. “Even though there is no charismatic mammal or bird here to act as a flagship for the area, FFI has recognised the biological importance of the cave crabs and their ability to act as a local flagship species – despite their absence of ‘cute and cuddly’ characteristics.

“At the same time, I have been impressed by how seriously the members of the temple committee have taken the threat to the cave’s biodiversity, and their efforts to save these crabs and the other endemic wildlife from extinction.”

Dr Whitten added, “the efforts of our local partner, the Friends of National Parks Foundation, have also been astounding, and I am pleased to say that a generous donor in Indonesia has provided additional funds to allow a student to monitor the crabs over the next year so that we can learn more precisely what it needs for its continued survival and refine the management plan accordingly.”