From Catching Crabs in Bali, To Not Wanting To Lose Them

Dr Tony Whitten, discovered a new species of crab 20 years ago, but today it is in dire straits. Just south of Bali is a small island, known as Nusa Penida, or the ‘Black Magic’ island, on that island you can find a cave known as Giri Putri, located near the Karangsari.

If you go to this cave now you will find the hustle and bustle of people that comes with being a well known sight of various temples for the Balinese Hindu pilgrims. But if you were to go to that same cave a little more the 20 years ago, you would not have found a sheltered concrete walkway, or benches, a ventilations system, but in fact a small whole underneath a boulder leading to a small cavern that you would have to crouch down to reach the larger explanation of cave at the back.

It is this cave 20 years ago had a dozen or so of crabs scuttling across the muddy floor. These crabs looked quite unusual with relatively long legs, a common evolutionary adaption of animals who evolved in darkness, and after sending some the lead crab taxonomist in Asia, a Professor Peter Ng at the national university of Singapore, they were deemed a new species, the Giri Putri cave crab (Karstama emdi).giri-putri-cave-crab

Returning to this cave every few years have brought up 2 distinct changes in the only known habitat for this cave crab, one being the cave now have a surrounding sheltered rood with a guard house (despite the still minute entrance whole), with the inside of the cave permanently lit with pilgrims being found at all hours of the day. The second change is now the lack of bats found in the cave, no longer able to roost uninterrupted thought sunlight hours, and with the lack of bats, the crab population has plummeted. In fact on his last visit, Dr Tony Whitten found none.

It has always been possible that the crabs would be found outside the cave and across areas over the island, but despite the local NGO, Friends of National Parks Foundation (FNPF) distributing pamphlets to identify other crab populations, still none have been found. With this information it was fare to say that the Giri Putri cave is the only place in the world to find this crab.

With raised concern, plans to bring this crab back from the brink were made. With SOS – save our species from the IUCN, Fauna & flora International is working with FNPF to formally meet with the temple committee as well as the local communities to alert people of the plight of this crab. With plans to erect sign boards about the crabs and to make a collaborative management plan for these animals there has been little to no conflict with the religious practices in the crabs only habitat.

As the Balinese Brahmin priest, Professor Ida Pedanda Gde Nyoman Jelantik Oka, has written on this issue: “One of the principles of Hindu belief (Buddhist Mahayana) is to nurture and conserve life, including fauna and flora, and other creatures be they seen or unseen. The basis for this is Sarwa Satwah, Sarwa Bhutah, Sarwa Pranidah, and Sukhino Bhawantu Swaha. All Hindus, young, old, from birth to death, should always attempt to carry out these principles.”

Hopefully with a conservation plan set out to save these restricted crabs, the Giri Putri cave will be known for both its temples and its endemic crab population.

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A Behavioral entomologist. I love the little things that are often overlooked.

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