An Iranian spelunker says the ancient Pabdeh cave in the country's southern Khuzestan Province is still burning after a month killing various species.
"All the bats have been suffocated by the fumes caused by the fire and many other animals have been apparently killed as well," Hamid Jahanbakhsh told ISNA.
Jahanbakhsh, who has visited the cave a few times after the fire started a month ago, said he could not see many of the species he would normally bump into in the cave.
Pabdeh cave is among the earliest human settlements, which dates back to the Paleolithic era, about 15,000 years ago.
"Death of the bats is a disaster, the effects of which will be unveiled throughout the coming year," Jahanbakhsh said.
"Bats eat insects and therefore preserve the natural balance of the area, but it seems that nobody is aware of the catastrophic events of the fire."
Jahanbakhsh said that "fire was still burning under the scat left from the sheep which were once kept in the cave," and that it has made walking difficult.
"Firefighting equipment is needed to put out the smoldering fire and smoke has made it almost impossible to breath inside the cave," he said.
Jahanbakhsh says locals know nothing of what is going on inside the cave and only saw the thick smoke that was coming out of it the day the fire started.
The veteran spelunker, who had initially blamed a shepherd for the fire, changed his mind after visiting the cave and now believes it might have been caused by tourists, mountaineers or illegal excavators.
French archeologists Roman Grishman visited the Pabdeh cave 70 years ago for the first time. His excavations yielded many stone tools such as axes, spears and knives dating back to 15,000 years ago.
The objects found by Grishman's team are now housed at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The first hand-woven Persian fabric was also found in Pabdeh cave.
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