In search of a prehistoric leopard

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In the crowd of five digit well known Slovenian caves there are many that deserve special mention, be they short or long. They are made special by the shape of the passages, shafts, fillers and interesting details, the most presitigous label of all would have to go to the caves with unusual formations and paleolithic findings. The most special ones are usually under lock up and preserved by the local caving societies, while some caves also have an extra label of a regional meaning. A usual visit to these caves is not possible and is governed by the state, usually for scientific purposes.

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This is why I was thrilled to respond to the invitation of the Caving Club Kraški Leopardi regarding the photographing of the Leopardova jama (Leopard cave). With my trusty crew (Mojca, Bole, Ines/Miha) I joined their club and with the special help with local culinary goodies, we set off into the cave. The cave is listed as one of the most sensitive in Slovenia, as it has a beautifully sintered passage with helectite formations, of which there are not many in Slovenia. The last time I mentioned them was in the article about Davor’s abyss, where we saw the 29 centimeter long thing, while these here hang out in even bigger numbers and create amazing sculptures and even larger lengths.

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And helectite formations are not the only things to see. On the coloured surfaces of the walls, there are also round formations, which look like onions or scoops of ice cream. We have developed a few funny ideas about their formation, and my favourite is definitely this one: someone used an ice cream scooper to throw them over the ceiling, what was left was thrown sloppily over the floor and walls and then sprinkled with other decorations.

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Moving through such a passage demands complete concentration from the caver. Each and every clumsy move of the body and limbs can cause irreperable damage. To visit such a cave, a caver needs some mileage and these sensitive caves are most definitely not for everyone. And if you have to be extremelly carefully in the not so comfortable passage, in the narrower parts you have to be even more careful of the fragile formations and straws of different lengths and widths.

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Well, and why is it call Leopardova jama? During the first explorations of cave, the cavers passed tight passage in the opposite way from the helectite passage and, after a few meters, made their way into a beautifully decorated hall. To the end of it, they found the jaw of an animal, which later proved to be a cave leopard, who died 35.000 years ago. Sadly, the whole skeleton of the animal is forever preserved under the limestone formation, so we could only guess the real place of discovery. But it is a fact that in those times, the cave had another entrance, through which the leopard came into the cave and found his bitter ending, but the entrance was ruined during the passing years.

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At the end of the helectice parts, the cavers discovered another hall. In it, there is an abundance of meter long straws, but it is connected by a narrow passage, which was at one point unfortunatelly too narrow for me. Despite stuffing myself in and breathing air out, the width of my chest was too large and I had to turn around. I could only imagine the photo of the hall in my mind with regard to the others’ stories.

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Time was passing too fast, of couse. In the hall at the entrance, we searched through the remains of the first world war, wondered about the vandals, who threw smoke bombs into the cave, and then made our way up. As amazing hosts, the cavers served us with even more local specialties after the visit of the cave, but we also had a long way to Ljubljana ahead of us.

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