A lover of wild dogs, birdwatching and Kalahari summers, German-speaking Explorations guide Richard Avilino realised as far back as primary school that he wanted to make a career out of his passion for the bush.
Richard grew up along the Thamalakane River in Maun where he was raised by his uncle and grandfather. Some of his most memorable moments as a boy were watching wildlife coming down to the river to drink; although crocodiles and hippos were a common sight, seeing an antelope for the first time was a pretty special occasion… “When I saw that bushbuck I quickly ran back and told my grandfather!”
Richard’s uncle worked for a tour operator managing a camp in the Okavango Delta where Richard was allowed to visit during school holidays. “He would take me out on boat rides and game drives when I was still in primary school.” Sadly, Richard’s uncle passed away, but it wasn’t long before the eager young nature-enthusiast had another opportunity to spend time in the bush. “My brother started working for a safari company along the Boro River and I was able to visit and spend time with him there. That’s where the bush really got into my heart and I started asking questions and learning about birds, grasses, trees, insects and mammal behaviour.”
“My brother said to me, ‘Richard what do you want to do after school?’ I told him I wanted to become a game warden and join the Department of Wildlife but he advised me to go into guiding.” After secondary school, in 1998, Richard applied for and completed his guiding qualification with the Botswana Wildlife Training Institute. He then began working for a safari company which primarily dealt with German guests and was later sent by his manager to Germany for three months (his first time travelling out of Africa) to learn the language. After returning as a fluent German speaker, he started leading trips on his own.
In 2005, Richard heard about Wilderness Safaris. “I was especially drawn to Wilderness after hearing about the high standard of guide training.” After contacting Wilderness and being hired as a guide he was not one bit disappointed. “I was able to further my experience by learning to handle a rifle and obtaining a walking guide’s license, which was very exciting..” Richard has been with Wilderness for 10 years now, a journey that he describes as “incredibly memorable.”
When it comes to choosing a favourite area in Botswana, Richard has several. “It all depends on the season; during rainy season my favourite is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Nxai Pan National Park because this is the time that antelope are dropping their offspring, flowers are bursting open, and the landscape is covered in a blanket of green grass. There are also plenty of jackals, cheetah, wild dogs and other predators following the antelopes. I remember one morning game drive when, as we came down to the valley, I saw a pack of 15 wild dogs running along the road. The dogs had picked up the scent of some springbok and started chasing them. They came running right past the vehicle and managed to get a springbok just two metres away from us. As they were feeding, four female lionesses (attracted by the commotion) dashed out from some bushes and took over the kill. It was an experience that I will never forget and the guests were blown away.”
A black-backed jackal on the prowl
Richard's favourite animal – the wild dog
Wild dogs are Richard’s favourite animal. “I like their social behaviour, it’s very fascinating. It’s a privilege to see them because they are an endangered species.” One of the best places to see the dogs is in the Linyanti area. “We have two packs of dogs there – a pack on the eastern side and one on the western side.”
“The more time you spend in nature the more time you will see things that you have never seen before, especially with guiding. For a guide the learning never ends, there is always something new happening.”
Richard believes strongly in the benefit of having an Explorations guide. “To have a private guide with you for your whole trip can really change your life. You get to know each other well and our Explorations guides are very experienced. We do presentations about the Okavango Delta, about the Linyanti system and we really go that extra mile to deliver a great safari for our guests.”
Richard not only enjoys his interaction with guests, but also loves having fun with the staff in each camp. “I like to joke and laugh with them and they know me very well and what I like. I like bananas very much and they know to have them ready for me! I had a card in one of the camps recently saying ’We hope you have enjoyed your stay and that we have given you enough bananas!’”
Read more about our Exploration guides.
Written by Rachel Lang, Wilderness Safaris Contributor
Photographs by Dana Alllen, Kalahari Plains Camp