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The Aberdares, A Natural Sanctuary That is Home to the Rhino Charge Motor Rally

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The Aberdares is a range of mountains to the west of Mount Kenya, running in a north- south direction between Nairobi and Nyahururu (Thomson’s Falls). The Aberdares come to a peak at about 4000 m and the middle and upper reaches are densely forested with thickets of bamboo, giant heath and tussock grass. The eastern and western slopes in particular are covered with dense forest and tree ferns in places.

The national park, established in 1950, encompasses an area of around 715 sq km and is one of Kenya’s only virgin forest reserves. The Aberdares are the third highest massif in the country, with dramatic peaks, deep valleys, enormous spectacular waterfalls cascading down the rock face, volcanic outcrops of bizarre proportions and undulating moorlands. There isn’t a huge amount of wildlife comparatively although birdlife is rich, and the walks around the park offer tremendous views along the hike treks and river falls. However the park is not often visited primarily because of the weather. It rains heavily and frequently, making driving difficult and seeing the game and mountain peaks almost impossible. Set off early in the day, as it frequently clouds over by late morning, and during the wet season roads turn into mudslides and are often closed.

The Kikuyu call these mountains Nyandarua ‘drying hide’ and they were the home to Mau Mau guerrilla fighters during the struggle for Independence. Nowadays the mountains are home to bongo an elusive forest antelope, buffalo, elephant, giant forest hog, red duiker, and Syke’s and colobus monkeys. The rare, handsome bongo is most likely to be spotted near the Ark, which is sited close to a swampy glade, waterhole and salt-lick, or up in the bamboo zone. Dawn and the following hour is the optimum time to see these elusive forest antelopes. At about 3500 m, where the landscape opens up, is the terrain of lion, leopard and serval cat, but these are rarely seen and most of the lion from the park have been removed to protect the bongo.

Birdlife is prolific here; most obvious are the four species of sunbirds. Among the birds of prey are the crowned hawk eagles, mountain buzzard and the African goshawk. Wildlife is comparatively scarce, but the views in the park are spectacular. Particularly good walks include trekking up the three peaks, Satima, 3998 m, Kinangop, 3906 m, and Kipipiri, 3348 m. You can hire a guide if you wish, but, if walking, an armed guard is obligatory to protect you from the wildlife. Trout fishing is very popular, especially high up in the moors. A fishing licence is required, obtainable from the park headquarters.

The park is split into two sections, the beautiful high moorland and peaks with sub-alpine vegetation, and the lower Salient, which is dense rainforest and where much of the wildlife lives. The Aberdare Salient is closed to the public and the animals can only be viewed from treetops or the Ark. Access to these lodges is prohibited to private vehicles; visitors are obliged to use the hotels’ buses.There are a number of spectacular waterfalls in the park including the Chania Falls and the Karuru Falls, which have a total drop of 273 m in three steps. The more remote and inaccessible Gura Giant Falls, to the south, have a higher single drop of over 300 m. There are a few roads traversing the centre of the national park from Nyeri to Naivasha, giving access to most of the waterfalls.

A major project in recent years has been the building of the rhino sanctuary, funded by the Kenya Wildlife Services, the Overseas Aid Agency and conservation organizations including Rhino Ark, Other wildlife also live within the fence including elephant and various members of the cat family. The electricity for the fence is generated locally using waterwheels to harness water from within the forest, a project that also provides power for local people living in the surrounding villages. The local villages support and raised money for this project, which also protects their livestock and crops from the animals. Various fund-raising activities in support of the project include the ‘Rhino Charge’ motor rally within which they find fun in nature. The spirit of the Rhino Charge is one charged with the resilience of a people committed to the conservation of the Kenyan wildlife, nature and catchment areas through the protection of mountain echo-systems. The spirit of the Rhino Charge will stop at nothing to see that conservation is upheld. Let’s all enjoy nature and all it has to offer while still conserving it for the future generations.

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