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Rhino Charge to be held in Kajiado

 A past Rhino Charge in Baringo County.

Kajiado County will host the 35th edition of the Rhino Charge on this year’s Madaraka Day weekend.

However, the much-anticipated route notes to the venue remain a secret and will only be released to competing cars, sponsors and spectators a few days before the event.

According to this year's programme, scrutinising competing vehicles will be done on Friday, May 31 with the main event taking place the following day. Winners in the various categories will be awarded on Sunday, June 2, 2024. 

So far, 64 teams have entered the gruelling competition including veteran 'chargers' such as Team Bundufundi who have been on this trail since 1996. The team, bound together by blood and other special friendships, was the first to have a girl on a winning team.

Christian Lambrechts, Rhino Ark executive director and who has been part of the Rhino Charge organizing committee since 2012, says the Charge has become a national event, drawing enthusiasts from home and abroad.

"The event has been extremely successful in all aspects. From a competitor number perspective, it grew from 31 competing cars during the first charge in 1989 to 65 in the 2010s, which is the maximum number of entries," says Lambrechts.

Lambrechts participated twice as a competitor before 2012; as a runner in Car Number 34 in 2003 and as the navigator in Car Number 46 in 2005.

The Rhino Charge is not only a world-renowned 4x4 off-road competition, but also one of the few sports events run with a national conservation purpose. It is conducted to safeguard the integrity and ecological functions of Kenya’s mountain forests, water towers and sources of all main rivers in the country.

Since its conception in 1989, the Rhino Charge has raised nearly Sh2.1 billion towards the conservation of Mount Kenya, the Aberdares, South Western Mau and Mount Eburu in the Mau Forests Complex, as well as Kakamega Forest.

While the inaugural Rhino Charge raised a meagre Sh250,000, this amount raised by local and international supporters has increased tremendously over the years to cross the Sh180 million mark in 2018.

Last year, the event was held at Nkoteyia Community Conservancy in the Ewaso Nyiro landscape, Samburu County and raised Sh173 million towards the completion of the 61-kilometre-long section of the Mt. Kenya electric fence in Nyeri County, construction of the Kakamega Forest electric fence, maintenance of the 758 kilometres of electric fence built to date in the Aberdares, Mt. Kenya, Eburu and Kakamega, and the expansion of community patrol teams in South Western Mau. 

Like the world-renowned Safari Rally that was conceived out of small talk by two friends, the Rhino Charge was born out of two friends, Rhino Ark founder Ken Kuhle asked rally enthusiast Rob Coombes. The two wanted an off-road event that would help raise money for Rhino Ark Charitable Trust which sought to save rhinos that had borne the brunt of poaching.

Their initial idea was to have the Charge run up Mount Kenya, a request turned down by wildlife authorities. However, in February 1989, they managed to rally 31 vehicles for the first event around Suswa. 

The rules of the competition are 'simple': the 65 competitors must pass through 13 checkpoints scattered over 100 square kilometres of rough terrain within 10 hours. The team that does so within the shortest period wins.

With the rally gaining global popularity, organisers now prefer high-value fundraisers due to the limited number of slots.

"It has gained international acclaim and attracts entries from all over the world. Few Kenyans are not touched by the event in some way, whether taking part, being involved in the organisation, or digging into their pockets for sponsorship," said the organisers.

The Rhino Charge is held within virgin conservation regions and strict discipline among participants and spectators is enforced. These include regulations on where to camp, how to manage garbage and respect for the host community. 

For the city crowd that loves sherehe, a noise curfew is put in place all the days of the event. For example, music systems and generators must be switched off by 10 pm on Friday, the eve of the main event. Failure to adhere to the rules can attract hefty fines. 

"If in the opinion of the organising committee the behaviour of the people within a camp is unacceptable or if the campsite is not cleaned and left in a satisfactory state, the organising Committee shall be at liberty to take disciplinary measures against the entrant including, but not limited to, the payment of a penalty of up to Sh100,000 for each offence and/or disallowing the entrant/team leader and his/her camping provider from participating in or attending future Rhino Charge events," one of the rules states.  

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