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What is the difference between National Parks, National Reserves and Conservancies?

In Kenya, protected areas embrace various types of ecosystems namely: forests, wetlands, savannah, marine, arid and semi-arid. These areas currently comprise 23 terrestrial National Parks, 28 terrestrial National Reserves, 4 marine National Parks, 6 marine National Reserves and 4 national sanctuaries. The difference between National Parks and National Reserves is simply the management: Parks are managed by National Government (Kenya Wildlife Service) and Reserves by Local Government (County Governments).

Conservancies are large tracts of land, often adjoining National Parks & Reserves, that tourism partners (camps and lodges) rent from local communities or private ranches. The agreement is based on the understanding that the rented land is not used for grazing cattle or farming, but left alone for the exclusive use of wildlife, and a small tourist population armed with cameras. In Kenya, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was the first conservancy formed back in 1995 and within the Mara ecosystem, Ol Kinyei was the first conservancy, formed in 2005. The brainchild of Jake Grieves-Cook, Ol Kinyei paved the way for a host of other conservancies including Olare Motorogi in 2006 and Mara North in 2009.

In practice the crucial difference between Conservancies and government protected areas is the control of tourism and accommodation. The prolific expansion of properties in the National Parks and Reserves has had a negative impact on the wildlife and ecosystems. The result is a deteriorating safari experience: reduced wildlife numbers, herds of minibuses, damage to flora by off-road driving as well as litter and pollution. There are now more than 25 permanent camps and lodges in the Masai Mara National Reserve alone. In the Mara Conservancies, the tourism partners have agreed on a code of practice which limits accommodation to one bed per 700 acres; promotes strong eco-tourism practices and low-vehicle densities; and safeguards the Masai Mara through professional wildlife management. The result of adherence to this sustainable model is a protected eco-system, prosperous land owners and a vastly superior wildlife experience.

When is the annual wildebeest migration?

Tempted by greener pastures, the wildebeest migrate northwards from the Serengeti and arrive at the Mara River around July/August and then cross over into the Masai Mara plains. Their spectacular migration is dictated by weather patterns, but typically the wildebeest remain in the Maasai Mara until October, when they head south and return to Tanzania.

More than 1.5 million wildebeest migrate in this enormous loop every year and the migration is now recognized as one of the "Seven Wonders of the Natural World."

Can you fly to the Mara?

There are frequent flights to the Maasai Mara served by airlines from Nairobi and Mombasa. AirKenya and Safarilink both offer regular flights which stop at various airstrips within the Maasai Mara Conservancies.

What vaccinations are required?

It is recommended that all visitors see their doctor 4-8 weeks prior to departure for advice on medication and vaccinations. Hepatitis A and B, typhoid and polio are usually recommended vaccinations. Visitors over one year of age entering Kenya from yellow fever infected areas must have an international certificate of vaccination. Malaria remains a serious risk in much of the country (although the risk is lower in the highlands above 2,500m), and visitors are strongly advised to take prophylactic treatment before leaving home and throughout your time in Kenya. Drinking tap water is not advisable.

Health and travel insurance are highly recommended, and you should ensure that your travel insurance includes emergency evacuation.

Are there any security risks in the conservancies?

The Mara Conservancy properties are secure and well guarded - usually by the Maasai who benefit from the conservancy. On guided walks or walking safaris you will be accompanied by experienced and highly qualified guides, occasionally armed.

The animals in the Maasai Mara are wild and are not confined or restrained by any fences or barriers. Visitors should remain in their vehicles AT ALL TIMES while on a game drive. Click to view the Maasai Mara Conservancies Game Viewing Rules

For personal items, it is advisable to find out from the camp/lodge manager if a facility such as a safe is available for depositing your valuables.