We met Winston this morning and figured out, after a little conversation, that his father, the founder of Gum Air, flew my dad and some of his crew down to Tafelberg on at least one or two occasions in the early '80s. It seems incredible at first, but it makes sense. It's a small country, and it's not easy to find a place to learn to fly. The easiest way is to apprentice with a family member who owns planes. Anyway, we got a look at the plane we'll be taking and a photo album of some of the airstrips they fly into, but seeing it online can't compare to seeing it in person.
The STINASU offices. (Photo by Paul Kraaijer)
After meeting with Harry Hunfeld at STINASU this morning, we're even starting to feel a little optimistic about what we'll find there. Harry asked my dad when he was last at Tafelberg.
Dad said, "Well, let's see... 1982."
"Oh," Harry said, "then it hasn't changed a bit."
He explained a great deal about the challenges facing STINASU. Its unofficial mission is basically to agitate for better environmental protections from the government, even as its survival depends in large part on governmental funds. But it was set up to receive enough outside funding--from the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and private companies like Alcoa--that the government doesn't want to do anything so drastic that it shuts off a potential source of incoming foreign money. It's a delicate dance, but STINASU seems to be doing a remarkable job of slowly inching everything forward with eco-tourism without totally disrupting the forests. Or, at least, that's what everyone says.
As we left Harry's office today, Dad said today, "I'll know whether the schulzi is there the second we step off the plane. If they've kept the forest as pristine as they say, that bat is still there. If they've disrupted the forest, even a little bit, it may be gone." But even if the forest is in good shape, knowing the bat is there, and catching it are two different things. We'll hope we get lucky on that count too. Fingers crossed.