Rhino Ark’s fundraising event Rhino Charge & the Northern Rangelands Trust
Mention ‘Rhino Charge’ to any socialite, petrol-head or conservationist in Kenya, and there aren’t many whose first thought will be of an angry, horned mammal chasing a safari vehicle. Instead, these two words will most likely conjure up thoughts of 4×4 vehicles with insane suspensions being winched up a near vertical hill – all in the aim of conservation.
The Rhino Charge is legendary in Kenya. An annual off-road motorsport competition, this event takes place on some of the toughest terrain in the country, and attracts thousands of people. Every year, the funds raised from this event go towards the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, a Kenyan conservation organisation. The aim is to conserve and protect Kenya’s mountain range ecosystems, the so-called “Water Towers”. Five times in the event’s history, the event has taken place in an NRT conservancy.
NRT’s relationship with the Rhino Charge goes back to 1991, when the event was held in Ngare Ndare. Although the Ngare Ndare Forest Trust wasn’t registered with NRT until the year 2000, the event raised Ksh. 1.2 million through the Vehicle Passes– a proportion of which went toward protecting the forest. This also gave Ngare Ndare excellent exposure to a local market, and an incentive for the community to explore tourism operations. The Rhino Charge organisers have implemented the said Vehicle Pass, known as the Landowner Access Fee (LAF), to benefit the local host communities. The money raised through this fee goes directly to the community, for projects such as the construction of school classrooms, the installation of boreholes etc.
The Charge returned to NRT in 2001, when the rally was held in Lekurruki Conservancy, and then again in 2008, this time hosted by Namunyak Conservancy. Namunyak is one of NRT’s largest conservancies, covering 974,000 acres. With community members employed as rangers, community-owned lodges working in partnership with independent safari camp operators, and a good governance system in place – Namunyak stands as a fantastic example of community conservation in Northern Kenya. It is home to the Mathews Forest Range, and serves as a critical wildlife corridor between the five community conservancies on its borders. At certain times of year, it hosts huge populations of elephant, as they move seasonally between the Mathews Forest and the Mt. Kenya and Ngare Ndare Forests. Community support for elephant conservation is vital here, which is why 60% of the Ksh. 2 million donated to Namunyak from the 2008 Rhino Charge Land Owner Access Fees (LAF) went toward community projects such as school bursaries, medical bills, and infrastructure development. The other 40% went towards conservancy operating costs, such as ranger salaries and vehicle maintenance.
Il Ngwesi hosted the Charge in 2012, and used Ksh. 1.6 million of their Rhino Charge funding to buy land in the foothills of Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares. One of the main focuses of the conservancies is to implement grazing plans, agreed upon by a dedicated grazing committee and local pastoralists. The aim is to reduce conflict in times of drought, control the overgrazing that leads to degraded land, and ensure that wildlife can share the same resources. The Il Ngwesi team decided to buy land to ensure that community members who had migrated to those areas did not return to the Conservancy during the dry season – thus reducing pressure on the rangeland. The rest of the funds were split 60/40, like Namunyak, to fund school bursaries and other community projects, as well as conservancy operating costs.
In June last year, the Rhino Charge raised a record Ksh. 102 million (over one million US dollars) when the event was held in the Kalama Community Conservancy – marking the fifth NRT/ Rhino Charge event. True to Rhino Charge fashion, the location of the event is never revealed until a few days before the event. Only the Kalama community, conservancy management and key NRT staff were in-the-know, and sworn to secrecy. With 22 NRT conservancies left to conquer – we are very much looking forward to the chance to partner with the Rhino Charge and Rhino Ark again in future, but who knows where they’ll charge next?