One conservationist and one rally enthusiast come up with an ingenious plan to help save Kenya’s endangered
The Rhino Charge: The toughest, off-road rally event on the African continent:
Every April in Nairobi, Kenya, a palpable excitement begins to sweep the city. From numerous garages, the sounds of serious mechanics can be heard. In countless shops, an increasing array of camping equipment is displayed. On everybody’s lips, one question: ‘where are we heading this time?’
The reason for this excitement is an event known as Rhino Charge. Despite what the name suggests, this event involves no enraged, rampaging Rhinos. Instead, it is the toughest, off-road rally event on the African continent, held in order to raise funds for the conservation of Kenya’s endangered Black Rhino, and is eagerly anticipated across the country, also drawing spectators and competitors from all corners of the globe. Rhino Charge takes place every year on the Madaraka Day weekend (1st June) and provides the perfect excuse to come together for two days of fun, camping and supporting the brave teams who take part in the rally.
The legacy of this event is deeply entrenched with Kenyan history. In the late 1980s, the crisis facing the Black Rhino population was reaching dangerous levels due to rampant poaching for their prized horns, and the strained relations between rhinos and neighbouring farmers. Being both pursued by poachers and killed by farmers who saw them as a serious threat to crops, Black Rhino numbers were falling fast. This problem was particularly concerning in the Aberdare region in Southern Kenya, but in 1988, finally something began to change.
This change was due to the conception of the charity Rhino Ark, formed to respond to the crisis facing the Black Rhino population. The main aim of the charity at this time was to aid the Kenya Wildlife Service, who wished to finance a protective fence that would surround the area of the Aberdare mountains with the highest concentration of wildlife. Although relations between the wildlife of the Aberdares and its farming communities have greatly improved, Rhino Ark’s work is far from complete. The charity now works tirelessly towards producing long-term solutions to many more conservation challenges, such as the Bongo Surveillance programme, which aims to monitor the diminutive population of the Eastern Mountain Bongo. But, these incredible projects cannot be sustained without funding. Shortly after Rhino Ark began, whilst relaxing on the verandah of Muthaiga Country Club, Rhino Ark founder Ken Kuhle asked his rally-enthusiast friend Rob Coombes to help him devise and organise a rally event to raise funds for the charity. Its safe to say that the creation process that followed was not a straightforward one. Initial ideas included a drive to the highest altitude on Mt Kenya and a race over Mt Suswa in the Rift Valley. Both were rejected due to safety concerns, after Rob and Ken attempted to complete them on motorbikes, but found the terrain was simply too dangerous. Although Rob and Ken wanted the rally event to be tough and challenging, there were limits. After a few more brainstorms, the idea of holding a navigation challenge across rough terrain was born, and Rhino Charge took shape.
The aim for the teams is to visit 13 points that are located randomly across an area of hazardous land, usually about 100 square kilometres, within a 10-hour period. All teams are provided with a map of the area, which includes co-ordinates of the 13 points, but the navigating is entirely up to them. The winners are the team who visits the most of these points in the least time. Each competitor must raise a minimum amount for Rhino Ark in order to take part, but entrants invariably raise considerably more, making the event essential in providing the charity with much-needed funding.The event that takes place now is not for the fainthearted. The gruelling terrain has seen the destruction of many cars, and the teams of competitors are required to train for weeks before the event. Managing to reach all 13 points on the map is a hugely celebrated achievement, as many teams fall victim to the perilous landscape, and only manage to navigate their way to a few of the events chosen locations. The antics of the cars are great fun to watch for the spectators, as they dive over potholes, scramble up cliffs, and reach ridiculous speeds across extremely rough terrain.
From the first charge, taking place in 1989 with just 31 competitors, the entrant numbers today have to be limited due to the overwhelming popularity of the event. There is now a Rhino Charge UK, usually held in Sussex, England, due to the success the event has had in Kenya. Every year the location of the rally changes, kept secret as long as possible. And it isn’t just the entrants who have all the fun. The Rhino Charge weekend falls every year on that of Madaraka Day, which celebrates the date of Kenya’s internal self-rule in 1963. Because of this, the atmosphere is always electric, as people from all over the globe flood onto the site to camp overnight and watch the rally. All that’s left to do then is make the final adjustments to the vehicles, straighten up the maps, and let the charge begin