Rhino Charge is an annual cross-country rally raid held in Kenya to raise fund for conservation of Kenya’s Aberdares eco-system. The Aberdares is found in the vast Rift Valley region of Kenya.
Aberdares eco-system is a hidden world of wildlife with thick vegetation that provides natural environment for countless species. The Aberdare National Park is a sanctuary for the endangered Black Rhino and an important water catchment area to Kenya’s main rivers.
Rhino Charge event, organized by The Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, has been held in Kenya since 1989. Rhino Ark Trust was formed in 1988 at a time when Rhinos in Kenya were under threat from poaching.
The major aim of forming Rhino Ark Trust was to build an electric fence around the Aberdares Conservation area to keep poachers at bay and prevent game from marauding onto farms around the area causing fear and loss of revenue.
The Aberdares has a rich diversity of vegetation that results from wide range of rainfall and altitude, the region host a wide variety of plant and animal species.
Among the threatened fauna species includes the Jackson Mongoose, Black Rhino, Giant Forest Hog among others. The charity event, though called Rhino Charge, caters for fauna and flora in the Aberdares.
The competitors in Rhino Charge have to compete on a gruelling cross-country course in off-road vehicles. Rhino charge is a unique and exciting competition that requires bravery and high level of skills in off-road driving and navigation.
The race involves 4WD vehicles following a course through extremely rough terrain to reach a series of pre-plotted competition points within the fastest time possible. A similar event, The UK Rhino Charge started in 1997, is held in Sussex, England.
Rhino Charge event require competitors to maneuver a rough terrain within a one hour period. The terrain makes up the 13 points of competition scattered over an area of about 100 sq Km.
Although the event is usually held in the vast Laikipia region of the Kenyan Rift Valley, the location and exact route for the race is never revealed in advance until the very eventful day. On the event day, competitors are supplied with a navigational 1:50,000 scale map showing the 13 Control Points and their starting point, usually one of the 13 points of the competition.
It is a rough terrain for Rhino Charge
While the overall spirit of the Kenya Rhino Charge is conservation of Kenya’s Aberdares eco-system through rally sporting, proper safety measures are installed throughout the competition. Real-time satellite tracking which enable faster recovery in case of an emergency has been used since 2008. Competitors in Rhino Charge event maneuver a rough terrain over an area of about 100 sq. Km. so there is need for an efficient tracking system.
The Real-time satellite tracking is used throughout the event to alert event organizers of any emergency situation on the side of competitors. Co-ordinates can be plotted for both ground and air rescue teams via the control room which is a station setup for real-time monitoring. Panic alerts, unusual delays and other signals received in the control room are treated as emergency cases.
Friends and team mates can also use a tracking service called ‘Track a Buddy’ to plot the current positions of their team mates throughout the event. Most teams in the Kenya Rhino Charge comprise of modified 4WD vehicles with enhanced off-road ability but teamwork and common sense also plays a crucial role in the competition.
4WDs do well in Rhino Charge
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Each competitor, usually a team of two to six members that includes driver, navigator and support crew, decides what route to follow by plotting control points on the map.
During the rally, teams have to make decisions between taking a safer, wider route versus a riskier but more direct route. Navigation is by GPS and the winner is the competitor who visits the most controls points in the shortest distance measured by GPS.
Rhino Charge competitors are required to make the minimum sponsorship set by the organizing committee. Most competitors however raise more funds than the targeted.
Alan McKittrick raised a staggering $138,662 in last year’s event, Rhino Charge 2011, using Car No. 5. Faithful supporters of this noble cause like long-time Sarah and the late Mike Higgins have raised a total of $495,054 for the last 20 years. When Mike died, Sarah decided to continue with fund raising by creating Mike’s memorial page for continued charity and donations.
The Rhino Charge rally organizers limit the number of competing vehicles to 60 in an effort aimed at protecting the environment from damage and pollution.
The event has become popular such that organizers have introduced a preferential entry strategy that favours high value fund raisers because interested entrants far exceed available slots.
Rhino Charge is a light hearted competition and also a social event. Large camps are set up within the race area to support the rally with pomp pre and post race celebrations. Hundreds of spectators make plans and head into the bush to watch the event.
Spectators enjoy Rhino Charge
One spectacle that you cannot afford to miss in Rhino Charge is the Gauntlet, a combination of 2 or 3 checkpoints that involves river crossings and other difficult obstacles.
Gauntlet is a crowd pooler and spectators of all walks of life likes to watch this particular part of the event. The night after the event is always filled with merry making and celebrating of a day spent for a worthy cause.
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