Tomorrow, my dad and I will be on our way back home from Suriname. Lots of mixed emotions as we leave. Dad tonight described the trip, the time here together, as "a gift" — and it was — but there's also no denying the difficulty that Suriname faces as a country. I wish we could offer up easy solutions, but I'm afraid there are none.
Our time at Raleigh Falls was encouraging, after what we'd seen at Brownsberg. The area seems well cared for, and Harry Hunfeld, who is in charge of all building projects for STINASU, is doing a great job there. He's putting up new buildings — guest lodges and a remarkable post-and-beam park headquarters — but more importantly, he's powering the park at night off of batteries charged by solar panels during the day, instituting a recycling program, and even adding small touches like putting the ceiling fans on a timer and making outdoor lights motion sensitive. There's a lot of thought going into what they're doing there, and the forest itself is clearly in great shape.
As a result, we had a remarkable haul of bats — even if we still didn't catch our shulzi. We set up on the west side of the island in the Coppename River, five nets along a trail toward the north point. Any fears dad may have had about the Artibeus went away in the first minutes after dark. Our first net had six of these bats — big, slobbering, and all attitude. We caught 23 specimens of three different species of Artibeus that night and netted another fifteen specimens representing another eight species. The next night we set up on a trail heading east toward the airstrip, a trail that climbs about a hundred feet to the top. We caught 17 specimens representing seven species there (including four more Artibeus).
We also got a very clear notion of what the fruit-eaters were dining on. Both nights, we pulled almost as many half-eaten forest guavas from our nets (dropped as the Artibeus hit the nets) as we did bats. In only one instance was there a blossom in the net, so it may be that the fruit-eaters, which have always been migratory, are moving around to follow the choice fruit crops. Certainly, we didn't see any of the bright orange guavas at Rudi Kappel or Brownsberg, but they were everywhere at Raleigh Falls.
The second day, just before we set up our nets, dad finished skinning and stuffing one of the larger Artibeus. He chopped the muscle into pieces with his machete, and I threaded them on the heavy tri-prong hook and steel leader he had purchased for the occasion. We cast around several pools but couldn't catch any piranhas. We spotted a spectacled caiman and harpy eagle (locally known as "gonini"), but no piranhas at the end of our lines. "You know they're in there," dad said, "but you can't catch them." It seemed to be the lesson of the trip. If you want to find, you have to go and look, but you can't draw conclusions on scant data. If we're really going to understand Suriname — and what it will take to save large portions of it — more research is needed, which means more money from the US and more commitment from the Surinamese government.
I've learned a lot on this trip — about the kind of work my father does and why he does it, but also about the difficulty of effecting conservation in a developing nation. It's an important story. Now I have to get down to telling it.