Places We Protect

Ozark Cave Preserves


An orange salamander with brown spots on a tan rock.
Cave Salamander Cave salamander at JT Nickel Preserve © By Jay Pruett

Limestone caves in the Ozarks are home to sensitive habitat for rare bats and cavefish.



The Ozark Cave Preserves are made up of three different properties protecting a combined 316 acres across northeastern Oklahoma. These preserves protect a limestone cave, rare bats and an underground stream where unique aquatic species can be found. 

One cave site provides a safe habitat for a maternity colony of the federally endangered gray bat protecting more than 20,000 individuals each summer before they migrate to Missouri for the winter.  These special bats were once abundant across the southeastern United States, but due to habitat loss, disease and other harmful factors, the gray bat has remained on the federally endangered species list since 1976.

These caves also protect the federally endangered Ozark big-eared bat, federally threatened Ozark cavefish, the Delaware County cave crayfish and the Oklahoma cave crayfish.



Due to extremely sensitive habitat these preserves are closed to the public.


Eastern Oklahoma Ozark Region

Map with marker: Preserves are closed to the public.


Gray bat, Ozark big-eared bat, Limestone caves, Underground streams


316 acres

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Photos from the Ozark Caves

Discover the unique species living in the Ozark Caves.

Researcher recording audio inside the cave.
Cluster of sleeping gray bats.
Cavefish swimming in clear water.
Cave crayfish crawling over rocks.
Cave salamander hiding among the rocks.
A white cave crayfish climbing over rocks.
Cave Crayfish Almost camouflaged by the light-colored rocks, the cave crayfish makes its way around the cave. © TNC

Crayfish & Cavefish

Cave crayfish are blind and because they have very little pigmentation, they appear white or translucent. This species has small first legs and very long antennae used for feeling around in the dark. The distribution of cave crayfish in the Ozarks is very limited but they are usually found in clear, cold undisturbed pools within the total darkness region of the cave. 

Ozark cavefish are a small, 2 inch long blind fish that looks pinkish-white and has a flattened head. It can only exist in a cave environment and is found in permanently dark pools of clear water cave streams. The presence of cavefish can be an indication of healthy water quality. Because of its small population size, the Ozark cavefish was federally listed as a threatened species in December 1984.

These species are highly vulnerable to habitat degradation. Pollution by agricultural chemicals, toxic metals and high levels of organic wastes in the surrounding areas which recharge the cave water supply threaten these rare species. 

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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