Schoolboys Riding For Rhinos

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By Vanessa Papas people Has Heart: They’re just 17 years old but Matt Perrott and Cal Tait have crunched the numbers. They know all too well that rhino poaching is currently at a crisis point, with the species teetering on the brink of extinction – and they want to help turn that around.

These two remarkable teens from Diocesan College in Rondebosch, Cape Town, put their passion for nature conservation into action by riding along the South African coastline – a whopping 600km from Cape Town to Knysna in five days – to raise funds for the Rhinos Without Borders translocation project. Having just completed the journey (which amounts to an Argus a day for five days in a row), Matt and Cal (with Chris Hyslop’s support) managed to raise almost R150 000, every cent of which will go towards Rhinos Without Borders. Now they’re asking the public to dig deep into their pockets to join the crusade to save our rhino, and help them reach their target amount of R200 000.

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South Africa has by far the largest population of rhinos in the world and is an incredibly important country for rhino conservation. However, rhino poaching levels have dramatically escalated over recent years. According to statistics compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG), since 2008 poachers have killed at least 5 940 African rhinos. By the end of 2015, the number of African rhinos killed by poachers had increased for the sixth year in a row with at least 1 338 rhinos killed by poachers across Africa in 2015.

The current poaching crisis is attributed to the growing demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, mainly Vietnam and China. Vietnam has been identified as the largest user country of rhino horn. Although rhino horn has no scientific medical benefits, consumers are using it to treat a wide range of conditions, from cancer to hangovers, and due to its high value, it is now also used as a status symbol by wealthy individuals. The high price fetched for the horn has attracted the involvement of ruthless criminal syndicates who use high-tech equipment to track down and kill the rhinos.
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Rhinos Without Borders is a project of hope for the rhinos of Southern Africa. Faced with a devastating exponential rise in illegal rhino poaching in South Africa, the Project was formed in order to start moving these endangered animals away from the poaching hotspots to a safer environment. The Project is committed to moving 100 rhino to safety. Where appropriate, the rhinos will be transported by air as opposed to road, in order to shorten the journey and lessen the amount of stress placed on the animals.

The budget to translocate just one rhino costs about R300 000 for its capture, quarantine and translocation, and about R200 000 per rhino for the security and monitoring. This makes a total of R500 000 per rhino. The whole project, including ongoing and monitoring and security, requires a total budget of over R40-million.

Botswana has been carefully selected for its extremely low poaching rates, thanks in part to its ‘no tolerance’ policy when encountering potential threats. Each rhino, when translocated, will be fitted with specially designed telemetry devices for ongoing research and monitoring purposes. Recently, the dream became a reality when the first batch of rhinos were successfully translocated from South Africa, by air, and safely released in their new habitat.

By taking action, Rhinos Without Borders has succeeded in moving rhinos from a high-risk poaching zone and significantly decreased the likelihood of these endangered animals being killed.

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Through their Riding for Rhinos campaign Matt and Cal had aimed to raise R200 000, which would just cover the costs of security and monitoring of one of these rhinos. So far they are short of their target by just R50 000. They’re now hoping their story will inspire others and that readers will join them and help raise the balance needed to reach their target.

“Last year we came back from a meeting of the Global International Network Society at school totally fired up about doing something about Rhino poaching. One of the rangers from Phinda had given us a talk on the desperate poaching situation in SA and how they were having to move Rhinos to places of safety,” explains Matt. “This year we decided that we could no longer just sit and support vocally but rather get out and make a valuable contribution to saving the rhino. After some thought, we decided would ride our bikes from Cape Town to Knysna. In retrospect, I don’t think we had any idea how far it is and how tough it would be. We then started pouring over maps, planning on Strava, getting gear together, fine tuning bikes etc. I set up a fundraising website on Givengain.com to make the fundraising aspect easy for anyone to donate anything from R20 to R20000. Through this project we would love to help inspire the youth of our country to support nature conservation and help them to believe that they can make a difference.”

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Matt explains that physically and mentally the ride was very demanding. “Most of it was off road on mountain bikes as we wanted to avoid traffic as much as possible. The highlights included the fantastic response we got from people along the way (we meet so many people en route, farmers, fishermen, road workers, and even a chap trying to ride to Cairo!). Because we were off the busy main roads the scenery was spectacular, we spotted quite a lot of wildlife including a pair of bat-eared foxes. Matt even got chased by an ostrich!
It’s been an amazing experience!”

When asked if there was any other fundraising projects lined up for the future, Matt says he’s always up for a new adventure. “I have to write matric this year but I am starting to think about swimming Robben Island or paddling around Cape Point!”.

Pay It Forward
If you are in a position to help the teens reach their target, donations can be made by logging onto GivenGain

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