25 May 2023
The Rhino Charge event is a Kenyan institution and a book has just been published to celebrate its 30th anniversary
I’ve been fortunate enough to cover some pretty hefty off-road events such as the Land Rover G4 Challenge and the Dakar Rally. While in Africa I have covered biggies such as Botswana’s Desert 1000 race and Zambia’s Elephant Charge. However, if you ask which 4x4 or off-road event in the world would I most like to cover before I die, then it has to be Kenya’s Rhino Charge.
The next best thing to physically being there is to read Gavin Bennett’s book, The Rhino Charge, which was first published in 2018 to celebrate 30 years of the charge. Gavin calls it, ‘the story of the brawny, the brainy and the bewildered’. I concur, but call it just plain bonkers. Who drives in a straight line between various GPS coordinates along some of the roughest and most challenging tracks in the Kenyan bush? I would say people with a proper sense of adventure who care about East African wildlife.
A maximum of six people per team
The Rhino Charge is held to raise much-needed funds for the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust – its aim is to fence Kenya’s precious mountain forests to protect them from poachers. The book is a must-have for any fan of off-roading, but also for someone who cares about the welfare of the planet.
It’s a large coffee table book with lots of incredible images taken throughout the years, so if your Land Rover mates are visiting then be sure to put the book where they can give it a good old browse. I love the old black and white images at the start.
Sometimes competitors have to think outside of the cab
Despite the fact that competitors could use any type of vehicle for the event, hundreds have chosen a Land Rover, from the Series variety up to rare and now sought-after two-door classic Range Rovers. The upside of this is that the book is full of great images of Land Rovers for you to enjoy.
Navigators plot the route while runners show the way
During the early brainstorming sessions of the Rhino Charge committee, one of the proposals was to drive up the side of Mount Kenya, which peaks at a height of 5199 metres. The rules were simple: start at the bottom at dawn (no powered winches allowed) and see how high you could drive up before noon. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and this never happened, but the seeds had been planted for an off-road event with a difference. The first Rhino Charge kicked off at ‘8.00am on 4 February 1989. The entry fee was $2. Minimum sponsorship was $10. Controls could be branded for $100’. Today the smallest minimum sponsorship is £2000 while the top tier teams pledge to raise 1.5 million Kenyan shillings, which is around £10,000. Expect to pay £400 entry per car today. Things have changed somewhat in 30 years.
Extreme gear for extreme tracks
It is not only the fees and amounts raised that have changed. Judging by the book, the biggest changes have been to the cars. If you look at those early events the vehicles were fairly standard. You would see the same vehicles working on the farm or in game parks after the event. Not so anymore. Today they are extremely modified though there is an unmodified class, too.
As slow as possible, as short as necessary
The author most certainly has some interesting things to say about Land Rovers. ‘No long [I think he means LWB] Land Rover has ever won the Rhino Charge, or even looked remotely likely to do so. Everyone loves Land Rovers for reasons other than their technical excellence, but their slogan The Best 4x4 by Far does beg the question, best at what? Perhaps the best thing about the basic Land Rover design and build is the amount of room it left for improvement, which inspired and did more to encourage than daunt global interest in rival 4WDs that are now so good and so prolific. In the 1970s and ever since, other manufacturers (especially the Japanese) recognised that Solihull had a good idea, and proceeded to turn it into a proper motor vehicle’. Bennett definitely doesn’t mince his words.
Toyota LandCruisers would go on to dominate the event, although the 3.5-litre Range Rover Classic quickly became a popular choice, too.
Crowds normally gather at the most extreme sections
The book highlights the incredible growth of the event over the years, from a handful of people at the first one to 65 teams and thousands of supporters at the latest.
The legendary car number 9
Chapter 13 is a tribute to the early pioneers of Rhino Charge and their core supporting cast. I just love the tribute and thanks to the UK’s John Bowden of Gumtree 4x4. It reads: ‘Lifelong Kenyaphile won the first UK Rhino Charge in ’97 – the prize was use of a KVM vehicle for the real thing in Kenya. Had so much fun he then imported his self-built V8 Land Rover hybrid and RC’s Car 9 legend began. Now runs UK Charge and is a Rhino Ark Trustee’. John has inspired several people from the UK to go over and try the event for themselves, and he’s raised thousands of pounds for this noteworthy cause.
If you love the African bush, off-roading and support conservation, then this is the book for you. Whenever I miss Africa, I flick through my copy of The Rhino Charge and the craziness of Africa depicted in its pages warms my heart. Hopefully, one day, I’ll get to experience the Charge for myself.
Buy the book
Copies are available post-free for £35. Cheques made payable to Rhino Ark UK and sent to Acorn Wood, Swan Lane, Edenbridge, Kent, TN8 7AH or £35 donation to Rhino Ark UK through the JustGiving website. Or call Kit Karberry on 07802 245865 for bank transfer details.
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