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Scientific exploration of the cave began in 1952, when it was visited by the Speleology Section of the Venezuelan Society of Natural Sciences. Juan Antonio Tronchoni, Eugenio De Bellard, Roberto Contreras participated in the first exploration. They were guided by local hunters who knew the cave as Cueva de la Tapa de Cambural (Gate of the Cambural Cave). The researchers named the cave to memorialize the noted Venezuelan engineer and naturalist Alfredo Jahn (1867 – 1940). Jahn, a well-known explorer of the Andean, central, and Amazonian regions of Venezuela, was also the founder of the Venezuelan Society of the Natural Sciences. He was a pioneer of various scientific disciplines in Venezuela, including geography, geology, topography, astronomy, anthropology, linguistics, and botany (Fundación Polar 1997).

The cave was registered in the National Speleological Cadastre by the Venezuelan Speleological Society in 1973 (SVE 1973). Included in the 1973 cadastre is the only available description of the fauna of the cave, which was documented by Carlos Bordón. Since that time, some members, in particular Franco Urbani, have conducted studies on the physical chemistry of the water (Urbani 1995) and the cave’s geology and mineralogy (Urbani 1996). More recently, the stalagmites of the cave have been utilized in paleoclimatology studies (Gonzales and Gomez 2002).

There has been an outbreak of histoplasmosis in Alfredo Jahn Cave, reported in March 2000, which affected a group of 34 college students and a professor who were in the cave for 20 minutes. It was one of the largest outbreaks ever reported; 71% of the 28 students who were evaluated developed acute histoplasmosis (Suárez et al. 2002).

The disease, which is contracted by inhaling spores which transform into yeast in the lungs, is generally associated with dry caves. However, the fungus is particularly abundant in areas where accumulated bird and bat excrement is either decomposing or mixed with the soil. It tends to be inhaled with dust when the guano is disturbed. The severity of histoplasmosis depends on the degree of exposure and previous immunity of the patient. Common symptoms include a high fever (up to 42?C, or 107.6?F), chills, an unproductive cough, thoracic pain, nausea, and vomiting, which are often confused with the flu (except in acute cases). The symptoms tend to persist for about two weeks. The majority of symptoms disappear within 10 days, but may last longer in more serious cases. The disease should be treated with an antifungal, especially when acute complications develop (Suárez et al. 2002).

Few biological research projects relate directly to Alfredo Jahn Cave (Carlsen 1999), however, there are various projects that apply to the biology of Venezuelan caves in general (Galán 1995, Galán y Urbani 1987, Linares and Bordón 1987).


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