National Parks, concessions and conservancies – what’s the difference? When you’re planning your African safari you’ll no doubt have come across these terms. If you’re a bit confused about them, you’re not alone, so let’s discuss the differences.
Conservancies are generally found in East Africa, especially Kenya and Tanzania. A conservancy is private land, leased from local tribes or community groups, and can only be accessed by leaseholders. Typically the number of beds and vehicles are limited – usually restricted to one camp per 700 acres and no more than 2 vehicles at any game viewing. This not only reduces pressure upon the wildlife but also delivers a much more exclusive and intimate experience for guests. Tourism revenue is shared with the local community, providing income, employment and infrastructure such as schools, health clinics and water supply, as well as wildlife conservation and ranger patrols. Our favourite private conservancies share unfenced boundaries with Africa’s legendary national parks which allows you to have all the advantages of the private conservancy with easy access to the national park. Many conservancies are experiencing increasing wildlife numbers as the animals discover a safe and hassle-free environment outside the busy national parks. The conservancies offer guided walks, night game drives and off-road driving as well as bush breakfasts, lunches and dinners. None of these activities are permitted in the national parks and reserves.
Concessions are predominantly found in Southern Africa – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia as well as South Africa. They are similar to the conservancies in East Africa, but the land is leased from the Government rather than from private landholders. The leaseholder is responsible for maintaining the land and they usually operate a private lodge or camp within the concession. These private concessions are not open to the public, allowing guests to enjoy a more exclusive safari experience than in a busy, and often congested, national park. Vehicles may drive off-road and at night, and walking safaris are often permitted. Many private concessions border National Parks or are indeed part of the national park, such as Kruger or Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta. With no fences, animals can move freely between concessions and national parks and so your game viewing is not limited by staying in a private concession area.
National Parks are public land owned by the Government and provide habitat exclusively for wildlife, although illegal domestic livestock grazing is not unknown. National Parks are magnificent wildlife havens which are open to the public. This means regulations within these parks are often very strict and the activities that one can enjoy on safari in these parks is limited to on-road game drives. Off-road driving, guided walks and night game drives are not permitted. National Parks, most of which were created long before the relatively new concessions and conservancies, are home to some of Africa’s most iconic lodges and tented camps. Unfortunately, many of these are very large and lack the intimacy of a small camp within a conservancy or concession (one luxury camp in Kenya’s famous Maasai Mara has 70+ tents!). The main reason to visit a national park or game reserve is that these include some of the well-known safari names such as Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Kruger. As these parks are open to the public the number of vehicles, both commercial and private, within the park at any given time, is considerable. You can end up with a large number of vehicles jockeying for position at sightings of lion, leopard and rhino for example. This is in stark contrast to private concessions and conservancies, where the number of vehicles on a sighting at any one time is limited to 2 or 3. Such tight controls are not possible in the National Parks.
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Image Credits: African Encounters Ltd