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Race for Rhinos a huge success Mark Mansfield reports

BOTSWANA’S MINISTER of the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama II, had a straightforward, from the shoulder message to deliver to competitors, officials and guests when he officially launched the recent Race for Rhinos at a gala dinner held at the race venue.

“If you cannot dream it, you will never do it”, were his opening words for arguably what turned out to be one of the best air races ever held in Africa. The Race for Rhinos was staged under the auspices of the Race of Champions, in partnership with Botswana Tourism, Gaing-o Community Trust and the Matsieng Flying Club.

race for rhinos

The salt pan makes for some spectacular sunrises, as can be seen.

The dream was conceived by well-known South African aviator, Chris Briers, CEO of Airteam, based at Wonderboom Airport, Pretoria, and started out as the Race of Champions a few years back with the Letaba Flying Club, Tzaneen, South Africa, hosting the event.

To date a total of five races have been flown. The decision to move the race to Botswana came about when the kwaZulu-Natal Government withdrew its sponsorship for the KZN Winter tour.

race for rhinos

A rare sight, the salt pan turned into a makeshift apron for all the participating aircraft.

The Botswana Government jumped at the opportunity to host the race. The two-day event took place at the National Heritage site of Lekhubu (Khubu) Island, Makgadikgadi Pan, Botswana, which was a world first in three ways. It was not the only first race of its kind, it was also the first time that aircraft have been allowed to land on the salt pan, and the first time an air race was hosted in Botswana.

The aim of the Race for Rhinos was to raise awareness for the ongoing illegal slaughtering of rhinos, on which the Botswana Government takes a very firm stand.

“God will be the judge of the poachers, our job is to setup the meeting,” said Khama II. One of the major sponsors, Dewet Drilling, donated a rhino to the Botswana Government.

race for rhinos

Menno Parson, CEO of Master Power Technologies, and one of the major sponsors for the Race for Rhinos put on a spectacular sunset display over the salt pan of Kubu Island in his immaculate Mustang P‐51D.

An auction was held at the gala dinner and a further 450 000 Pula was raised. Setting up an air race is a strenuous task even when it is hosted at an established location, but the major challenge was to set up an entire make-shift city, including an international airstrip, in the Makgadikgadi pan, Botswana, at a place called Khubu Island (Khubu meaning either large rock or Hippopotamus), which is a dry granite rock island in the pan.

race for rhinos

An iconic sight on Kubu Island, a Baobab tree in the foreground standing guard over the aircraft in the background.

The nearest town is around 70 km away, or two hours by road. There was no water, no electricity, no runways, no infrastructure at all, but in the space of a week, an entire city, named ‘Khubu city’ sprang up including two runways, 04/22 and 11/29, both 2 000 metres long, a temporary ATC, a customs and immigration facility, as well as 235 tents and catering for around 400 people, over 67 aircraft in attendance, a total of 30 000 litres of sponsored fuel used for the race was trucked in from Durban. Toilets and showers were brought by road from Pretoria and all at a cost of around three-million Pula. This contributed to the enormous success of the race.................................... For the FULL ARTICLE please subscribe to our digital edition.

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