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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.

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