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Rhino Charge thrills fans in push for conservation

ENVIRONMENT
By ERICK OCHIENG’ | June 7th 2014
Team 6 after finishing the Rhino Charge competition in Samburu East District in Isiolo at the weekend. [PHOTOS: ERIC OCHIENG/ STANDARD]

SAMBURU COUNTY: Thrill. Dust. Fun. Sun. And a fierce exchange on Facebook.

Such was the adventure during the Rhino Charge, held in Samburu East District in Isiolo. All in the name of conservation.

The competition, held in sweltering heat, was the ultimate test for drivers and their monstrous 4WD vehicles.

The competitor’s faces told it all. Faces covered in thick brown dust under a layer of sweat, attires soiled and torn.

Hundreds had travelled to Kalama Conservancy, an expansive sanctuary for wild animals, for the annual adventure last weekend.

The more than 100 participants maneuvered their monster machines on the hills and on the dry rugged terrains of the 46,100 hectares of land in the 26th edition of the Rhino Charge, held inside Gir Gir Group Ranch.

For fans, it was an opportunity to watch elephants, Grevy’s zebra, giraffe, wild dogs, cheetahs, lesser kudu and gerenuk. Leopards hunt or roam lazily in the acacia grasslands. But as it turned out, many had taken a ‘vacation’.

Patrick Vidija, a photographer, was excited after the three-day event that started on Saturday and ended on Monday. “I really enjoyed the cheery atmosphere and already feel refreshed,” he said.

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Spectators thronged the venue in large numbers to cheer their teams.

Some camping tours were elegant and served mouth watering food. For once, one felt that the local tourism industry is not so worse off, after all!

Two choppers and a fixed wing aircraft were at hand to provide 24-hour surveillance. On standby were ambulances and a medical team ready to tackle any accidents.

THE MISHAPS

Maneuvering through the uncharted terrain was not going to be easy, and accidents were a possibility. Other “chargers” are always encouraged to help when the unexpected happens.

The event is organised to raise funds to support the activities of the Charitable Trust Ark. It was launched in 1989 to raise funds for the construction of the Aberdare Electric Fence.

Rhino Ark founder Ken Kuhle, Rally Enthusiasts Rob Combes and Brian Haworth mooted the idea of an off-road motorsport event to support the fencing project by the recently established Charitable Trust Rhino Ark.

Car number 8 belonging to Amaan Ali Fazal, rolled as the team attempted to conquer boulders in one of the guard posts.

The medical team on the ground stabilised the occupants before they were flown to Nairobi for further treatment.

However, the recovery of the vehicle took two days, and Fazal was not amused. He posted a comment on Rhino Charge’s Facebook page, and accused Rhino Ark, the organisers of the event, of doing little to help.

“After asking chargers for assistance nobody was willing to help except for Anton leviton, car 1 Don White, Car 41 Amit from Land Mawe, team Ole Choda, mahesh bhatti and Ashish Bhatti car 7, Peter of KWS tractor,” he wrote.

“We were abandoned by the officials and organisers and told this is “not our problem.”

His team has been participating in the event for 13 years. Fazal was expecting better rescue response after the car, wedged on a cliff.

But David Lowe, Clerk of the Course, responded to Fazal’s facebook post saying those claims were not correct.

“Please get your facts straight. Our priority on the day of the charge is the safety of the team,” he wrote.

He said the team mobilised helicopters, ambulances, fixed wing aircraft, “all thanks to our sponsors and our medics we managed to stabilise the patient. We then secured the vehicle overnight with our own security because it is impossible to recover a car during the event.”

He said other participants offered help, Rhino Charge dispatched a tractor and spent an entire day dragging the vehicle out.

However, the exchange did little to take the shine off the event. The mishap only served to show how difficult the event is.

Racers conquered dry and sandy riverbeds. They cruised over gullies, drove over boulders and scaled hills.

Drivers accumulated points through their ability to  clear the course over the shortest distance possible, endurance, accuracy, ingenuity on the tedious terrains and barriers set up by the organisers in 13 guard posts.

At the end of the day there had to be only one winner of the fierce competition. The overall winner of the dare devil competition was Allan Mckittrick of Team Number 5 who cleared the course in 31.340km. His team was composed of inner and outer runners including Bovard Jon, Ray Kyle, Tim Jessop, Knight Bruca and Doung Smith.

Major improvements

“I want to thank my fabulous team and the sponsors for making this happen,” said the champion.

However, major improvements were seen among the three www.cheki.co.ke sponsored Car 53, 59 and 02.

Jamie Manuel and Brandon Barbour whose number 53 Suzuki car was third overall in the competition were grateful to their sponsor.

Manuel said: “We can’t all believe that we made it to the top five. We are grateful to the sponsorship from Kenya’s number one car website cheki. We look forward to a cordial relationship with them next year.”

Kenya National Rally Championship ace Ian Dancun, who was also under the cheki sponsorship with Car number 2, a Toyota Land Cruiser, managed to finish in the fifth place.

Dancun said: “It was great trying a hand in the Rhino Charge. More sponsorship should be unveiled to rally competitors to have a feel of the event that has helped thousands around Abardares region with clean water and enviable ecosystem.”

Team Number 22 of Gray Cullen finished second while Car Number 59 a Range Rover belonging to a South African Richard Baudry was 13th overall. Baudry who was making a debut in the competition meant to conserve the environment in the larger Abardares region, was glad to lift the Tiger Line Award One.

Cheki Marketing Manager Elaine Mathangani, while noting that they were impressed with the results posted by their drivers this year said: “It was great embracing the event last year but this year has been impressive. We are looking forward to spread our wings in coming editions.”

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