The Rhino Charge was conceived in Nairobi, Kenya when Rhino Ark founder Ken Kuhle asked Rally Enthusiast Rob Coombes whether he would organise an off-road 4×4 event to help raise funds for the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust that he had recently formed. The trust was committed to saving the dwindling Rhino population in the Aberdare National Park.
The concept discussed was to hold an off-roading competition whereby the winner would drive a vehicle to the highest altitude on Mount Kenya. Rob then discussed the idea with Brian Haworth who was enthusiastic and agreed to join Rob in organising it. Presentations to Kenya Wildlife Service quickly determined that the permission to hold the event on Mount Kenya would not be granted and the concept went back to the drawing board. Some years prior to this, Brian had recced a route around Mount Longonot for an off road event at the request of Derek Gates (Safari Rally organiser).
It never took place as they decided to hold a mini event at Hell’s Gate National Park instead. Brian’s concept was to use distance, rather than speed as the deciding factor, this was to prove the basis for what would become the Rhino Charge. Based on this experience and after much discussion, Rob and Brian decided to attempt an event to drive over Mount Suswa in the Rift Valley.
Two controls would be sited on either side of the Volcano and whoever did it in the shortest distance would be the winner. One Sunday morning in early 1989 the two set off, with motor bikes, headed for the southern slopes of Mount Suswa. After an exhausting day mostly “carrying” the bikes, and still only half way up Suswa they had to head back to base, the idea wasn’t going to work! They sat looking across the Suswa plains with Lake Magadi in the distance, several small hills and large luggas in the foreground.
Why not put a control on the top of each hill and one at the bottom of the escarpment? The competitors would have to find their way across the luggas to get to the hills! The following weekend, prepared with camping gear, motor bikes and their families, they spent two days driving and riding around the area setting out what eventually became the venue for the first ever Rhino Charge. The rest, as they say is history…
31 competing vehicles entered the 4th February 1989 event won by Travers Allison in a Suzuki Jeep. Distance was measured with the vehicle’s standard odometer. These pioneers probably had no idea of the huge interest this small event would attract in the years to come.
At the core of the Rhino Charge is a highly dedicated group of individuals that comprise the Rhino Charge Committee. Over 25 years later, many of the original committee members are still deeply involved in the Charge.
Rob and Ken are no longer with us, while Brian is still assisting the preparation of the Rhino Charge in many ways. Their legacy is a concept that has developed into the toughest off-road event on the continent and possibly anywhere.
It has gained international acclaim and attracts entries from all over the world. The Kudos of winning the Rhino Charge is highly coveted in Kenya and elsewhere. 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. By April every year, the Rhino Charge Fever hits Kenya.
Wherever you go, cars are being prepared in garages, tested on and off the road. Shops are full of camping equipment, and the words “where are we going this time?” are heard everywhere. Then, on the Madaraka Day weekend, the exodus begins, and thousands of enthusiasts head for the hills for another Rhino Charge.