A waterfall is pictured at the Grotte aux Fees (Fairy Cave), where since 1864 visitors can see an underground river come out in the rocks 500 meters inside the mountain, in St-Maurice, Switzerland, March 19, 2019. Picture taken with a long exposure.
A waterfall is pictured at the Grotte aux Fees (Fairy Cave), where since 1864 visitors can see an underground river come out in the rocks 500 meters inside the mountain, in St-Maurice, Switzerland, March 19, 2019. Picture taken with a long exposure. (Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

There is an abandoned tourist cave near Menglun in Yunnan province in Southwest China. It houses tiny leeches, micro snails, crickets, bats, and other creepy-crawlies that are part of the ecosystem. But as these things remain unprotected and no study made about its importance in the environment, will they survive living with the threat of destruction due to human activities?

The cave is full of bat dung, which a student named Ade Prasetyo Aguin said to be equivalent of gold in the area. It provides a "crucial life base" for the creatures living in the cavern, although it smells like manure and cat urine.

Up in the ceiling, there is a flock of bats hugging themselves trying to sleep. According to Dr. Alice Hughes, via The South China Morning Post, there is about 800,000 sq km of karsts in Southeast Asia, and half of it is in Southern China. However, almost none of it is protected.

"Every single one of these limestone hills can have species found nowhere else in the world," Hughes said. "Given that these systems have up to 12 endemic species in a single hill, there is a lot that needs to be done."

Unfortunately, as no one creates a study or even examine these caves, about 5.7 percent of Southeast Asian karsts get lost per year. China's caves only get a little attention than other ecosystems, but they are considered biodiversity hotspots.

Landscape ecology team and collaborators found new species inside the cave such as geckos, pseudoscorpions, millipedes, and cave beetles. But as the majority of karsts never have a biological inventory, specialist group surveys always find new species. Hughes added, per Today Online, there are even a lot of species left undiscovered with the lack of study.

Just like other ecosystems today, the species inside China's caves are also facing habitat loss because of human activity. Some caves are being mined for cement, while its limestone is used to make concrete.

Some caves are also turned into tourist spots. "In many ecosystems, tourism is used as a way to protect the ecosystem," Hughes continued to say. But with this advantage, it also comes with disadvantages. It can be dangerous for the biodiversity in the systems, especially the ones that don't want to be disturbed like bats.

China has no management agency that oversees the caves' protection. "In most cases, there are no biodiversity surveys before development," Professor Mingyi Tian, one of Hughes' collaborators, said.

We will remain unknowledgeable of the habitats destroyed in caves without proper study, not knowing what is really in there. As there are a lot of researchers that conduct studies on big mammals, small animals also need attention. Tian added they also play an important role in the ecosystem, and if one part gets destroyed in the food chain, everything will be destroyed.