To give you an extra little insight into the world of African safaris we’ve organised a small question and answer session with working guides from some of our favourite lodges and camps. First up is Riccardo from Saruni Mara in the Masai Mara. Riccardo has been guiding for eleven years, starting back in 2002 when he built Saruni Mara, his first lodge, and wanted to really get a deeper understanding of safaris.
How and why did you become a guide?
I had been on safari many, many times as a guest, and in 2002 I hired one of the ‘old’ safari guides in Kenya, Peter Behr, an ex-hunter and a legendary figure in safari circles, and asked him to be my mentor. He trained me day after day, month after month, and it is one of the most beautiful memoirs that I have of coming to Africa and re-inventing my life in the bush. Having been a reporter for 20 years I probably had a natural curiosity towards new people, new places and new ideas, but my guide learning process revolved around completely different world. The great part of it is that Peter was training me and some Maasai who had the ambition of becoming a guide, so I discovered the Mara – and some of its ‘secret’ corners that Peter Behr had been visiting during his long career, seeing it through my own eyes and through the eyes of the Maasai. The Maasai are now still part of my guiding team and have become very professional guides. The experience taught me that what my guests really want is to have the book of nature opened in front of them by somebody who has been…writing it.
Do you have a specialism? What are you most interested in?
I’m very passionate about the connection between land ownership and conservation, community and preservation of wildlife, creation of conservancies and involvement of the communities – both in Samburu and in the Masai Mara in the tourist industry. Basically, I’m very passionate about explaining to my guests what is the connection between tourism – and the safari that they have bought – and conservation: a very close relationship. I also love birds and I like to ‘surprise’ some guests who might be sceptical about how interesting the birds are compared to the big mammals or the big cats, showing them colours, shapes, flying styles and ecology that they would not have dreamt to look at. And hear them say, “I never realised how interesting birds are!”
What is your favourite country/national park/reserve to guide in?
I must confess that even if I cut my teeth in the Masai Mara, today my favourite park for guiding is Samburu and its surrounding conservancies, like Lalama (where Saruni Samburu is located). The sense of vast, open, untouched wilderness that Samburu gives you is unmatched. And the amount of wildlife is increasing every day, making it a really exciting place to visit. The “Samburu Five” (the species that are only in Northern Kenya and that are so special and so different from other wildlife species) make a Samburu game drive a treasure of discoveries.
What has been your favourite sighting to date?
I have two favorite memories: a pride of lions attacking baby wildebeest in the open of Lemek Conservancy, in the Mara, at night; and the wild dogs surrounding our vehicle at 9 in the morning on the road between Saruni and Samburu National Reserve, and playing with us with the joy of animals who feel safe, happy and protected by the environment – Kalama Conservancy – that we have contributed to create.
What’s your favourite activity?
I like mixing all the activities: driving, walking, having bush dinner.
If you could go to any other country to see its wildlife, where would you choose?
I have been to Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, and I would like to go to the ‘mysterious’ new territories in South Sudan, where five parks and reserves full of wildlife but still totally isolated from the rest of the world have been ‘discovered’ by the National Geographic and, one day, will be a famous safari destination.
What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to become a guide?
To remember that you are a story-teller and that the narrative part of the experience is as important as the technical one.