Matt Meyer first decided to ride for the rhinos a year ago. A lifelong safari guide in South Africa, Meyer said he felt his message needed a bigger audience. He heard about someone who had walked 1,000 miles for rhino conservation, but no one had ever biked the entire western US coastline hauling a nearly 350-pound rhinoceros statue before.
“I got tired of just reaching out to like ten people a week as a guide,” Meyer said. “I wanted to have a greater outreach and make more of an impact.”
Born and raised in South Africa, Meyer is riding down the entire Western U.S. coastline with Lunar the rhino sculpture in order to spread awareness and raise $250,000 for rhino conservation in Africa. He made a pit stop in front of the EMU Amphitheater on Monday to try to connect students to his cause. But Meyer hopes to educate people about rhinos and their role in the ecosystem, too.
“It’s more than just, ‘Hey give money and save the rhinos,’” Meyer said. “We want people to learn about it and why it’s important. You lose a rhino, you lose many other species that fall below them on the environmental totem pole. Everything that relies on rhinos and what they do for the environment will go if rhinos go.”
According to data from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, 1,215 rhinos died as a result of poaching in 2014, and another 1,175 rhinos were poached in 2015. “That’s eight percent of a population in a year gone,” Meyer said in reference to these statistics. “They went over the tipping point of rhinos poached versus rhinos born. Even though the population, numbers-wise, is stable, it will be declining fairly soon.”
The practice of rhino poaching had nearly been eradicated from Africa in the early 2000s, but Meyer said an increasing demand for rhino horns in Asian markets fueled a poaching revival.
Meyer picked the Western US coastline to ride for a variety of reasons. San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver, Canada are home to some of the largest Asian communities in the world, so he thinks educating these communities about the poaching crisis could help curb the demand for horns. Plus, Meyer noted, many environmental activism groups are based out of the West Coast. Most of all, Meyer didn’t want his message to go unheard.
“People have heard enough of it in South Africa so we’d thought we’d do something here with fresh ears, fresh audience,” Meyer said.
Roughly a quarter of the way done with his journey, Meyer plans to resume his trek tomorrow by traveling to Florence beach, then getting back on the coastal highway and making his way toward San Diego, his final destination. Meyer is especially excited to ride with Lunar over the Golden Gate Bridge.
His trip has not been without its wacky moments. As he was entering Longview, Washington, he noticed a large husky-like dog poking its nose out of the window of a passing car. The next thing Meyer knew, the furry beast was squeezing itself through the open window and leaping at Lunar while Meyer and his support team’s car were still moving. After the dog had been contained by its owner, Meyer had to ride well ahead of the car as the dog, Giant, wouldn’t budge until the rhino was out of sight.
“The next day as we were leaving town,” Meyer said. “I had already started peddling and [support van driver] Josh was gassing the rig up, and this car pulls in and there is Giant. He had just grazed his toe and groin a little bit, but nothing major.”
Meyer said despite not having a strong cycling background, he is loving being on the road and hopes that the fundraising efforts will keep up.
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh I’d love to but does $1 really make a difference?’ — every bit counts,” Meyer said. That’s the message to get across to people.”
Those interested in donating can go to rhinoride.org. The site also has a live map where you can track Meyer and Lunar’s progress so far.
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