What is the difference between National Parks and Private Reserves/Conservancies?
For all safari-goers to Southern and East Africa, it is important to understand the difference between what staying in one of the National Parks (such as the Kruger National Park in South Africa, or the Amboseli National Park in Kenya) or National reserves (such as the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya) means versus staying in one of the many privately owned and run conservancies or reserves which tend to be located just outside the main National Park or National reserve ‘official’ boundaries.
Private conservancies or reserves offer a more exclusive safari experience, where it is possible to escape the crowds and experience the African wilderness without encountering a huge number of other vehicles.
Only the game viewing vehicles belonging to the lodges situated in the conservancy or reserve are allowed to drive on the land. Also, because you are outside the boundaries of the National Parks and reserves, the rules governing where and when you can drive are not applicable – so the guides can drive off road in search of big cats, and night drives from the camp after dinner in search of nocturnal animals such as ardvaark, or leopards hunting by moonlight, are a highlight of a stay in one of these camps.
Many reserves have a rule that only 2 or 3 vehicles are allowed at any one wildlife sighting, so although you may have to wait your turn patiently, it is worth it in the end as the animals tend to not get stressed and are not eager to disappear off into the bush to seek a hasty retreat from too many vehicles and spotlights.
Guided bush walks are also permitted in private conservancies.
National Parks and National Reserves
The National Parks and National reserves are managed by local councils or governments, who are responsible for maintaining roads, controlling poaching, and security within the Parks and reserves themselves. Typically, the number of visitors are not restricted, and the safari experience is therefore open to everyone.
Game drives within the Park and reserve boundaries are restricted only to the extensive road network, and also between set hours – normally sunrise to sunset – meaning no night drives are allowed.
You will find that on game drives, you will certainly see other vehicles - whether you are in your own car, or in an open 4x4 Land Rover, or even if you are part of an organised tour. You may even find yourself in a 'traffic jam' as the cars jostle for space along the road, anxious for their own view of whatever animal is causing the traffic to grind to a complete standstill!
Even in somewhere with huge open spaces such as the Masai Mara, if you travel here during the Great Migration months and head towards the Mara River to witness a famous wildebeest/crocodile crossings, you can share this 'bucket list' experience with sometimes up to as many as 50 other vehicles.