The difference between a National Park/Reserve and a Conservancy and the impact it has on your safari

National Park, Game Reserve, and Conservancy have subtle differences in each type of area from ownership, activities available, and revenue expenditure. Understanding the difference can better inform the choice of where you choose to go on safari based on supporting the local communities

What is a National Park?

National Parks are extremely large, protected areas and there is no capacity limit making them considerably busier than a conservancy. National parks are public land owned by the government and managed by KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service), which is strictly protected keeping ecological processes relatively intact, where only tourism and research are permitted. Its declaration is issued through a gazette notice by the Cabinet Secretary in consultation with KWS. The main National Park areas in East Africa include;

Kenya: Tsavo (East & West) National Parks | Amboseli National Park | Nairobi National Park | Lake Nakuru National Park | Meru National Park | Mt Kenya National Park | Aberdares National Park

Tanzania: Serengeti National Park | Ruaha National Park Nyerere National Park | Tarangire National Park | Lake Manyara National Park | Selous National Park

Uganda: Murchison Falls National Park | Bwindi Impenetrable Forest | Rwenzori Mountains National Park | Lake Mburu National Park

What is a Reserve?

A Reserve is community land under the county government, which is managed by the county government and / or in partnership with KWS. Its main objective is the protection of habitats and species of wildlife with active human interventions for public education and human visitation. Its declaration is issued through a gazette notice in consultation with KWS and county government. The main Reserves include;

Kenya: Masai Mara Reserve | Samburu Reserve | Shimba Hills National Reserve

Tanzania: Ngorongoro Conservation Area | Grumeti Reserve | Kigosi National Reserve

Uganda: Ajai Wildlife Reserve | Kyambura Wildlife Game Reserve | Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

What is a Conservancy?

A Conservancy is a community or private land managed by the local community or corporate body. Its objective is to encourage multiple land use in areas that are compatible with each other, which are pursued with a conservation objective maintaining socio-economic benefits, traditional and cultural benefits. Its declaration is decided by the landowners and county government. Conservancies are often opposite or adjoining National Parks and there are no fences or sectioned-off areas between the two, so that wildlife can roam freely from one to another.

Conservancies are leased from the indigenous people of the local communities and are dedicated purely to the conservation of wildlife that offer a “win-win” scenario for all. With only a limited number of camps and lodges, guests get a more intimate experience with wildlife due to limited entry. The fees, much of which go directly to the local community within the area, are guaranteed to be used to improve the living conditions of both the community members and the animals residing there. This structure also provides a synergistic working environment; tourists and local travellers to the area encourages employment opportunities within the camps/lodges, which in turn ensures the continuation of the conservancy and its activities. The aim is not just for the conservation of wildlife, but to create employment and manage human-wildlife conflict, considering these parcels of land border villages. Some examples of conservancies in East Africa are;

Kenya: Mara North | Ol Pejeta | Sera Wildlife Community | Naibosho Conservancy | Lewa Wildlife Conservancy | Olare Orok Conservancy | Borana Conservancy | Solio Conservancy | Loisaba Conservancy

Tanzania: Loliondo Concession | Sinya Wildlife Conservancy

Uganda: Entebbe Wildlife Sanctuary | Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Difference in Activities available;

National Park / Reserves

Due to the ownership of National Parks, there are slightly stricter rules and regulations when visiting one and activities are more limited. For example, game drives are only permitted on designated roads therefore vehicles generally cannot go off-roading to get closer to an animal sighting. It is not permitted to get out of the vehicle while on game drives or outside the perimeter of the camp / lodge.


Conservancies offer a greater variety of activities, where visitors have the opportunity to visit the remote bush country and due to the smaller number of people allowed in the conservancy at any one time, those on safari will have a much more authentic and intimate experience. One of the major benefits of visiting a wildlife conservancy is the selection of safari activities available. Venturing off-road is a common occurrence when there is a chance to get closer to the action, walks off the beaten track are also available along with a horse or camel riding safari experience. One of the most popular and thrilling activities available in conservancies is night drives, a great opportunity to witness a whole host of nocturnal life, which can be seen (and heard) on a drive across the shadow-cast landscape, including aardvarks, civets, and galago (otherwise known as bush babies), with the evening also being the best time to spot a leopard!

It is important to visit National Parks, Reserves and Conservancies in order to support each shareholder, the upkeep of the environment, and the wildlife living in each.

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