Top 3 Differences Between National Parks and Game Reserves

Wildlife visitors are often oblivious of the differences between national parks, game reserves, and conservancies. Here is the distinction.

The Tsavo National Park. Picture/Kenya Wildlife Service

Top 3 Differences Between National Parks and Game Reserves

Driving in parks, viewing wildlife, and interacting with nature are among the most satisfying recreational activities.

It is however important to understand the jurisdictions and scope of these areas before visiting them.

The following are the differences between a national park and a game reserve, followed by a description of conservancies.

1. Management

    1. National Parks are public spaces/properties which are managed by state agencies on behalf of the public.
    2. National Parks are considered national assets by virtue of earning the country foreign exchange from foreign tourists.
    3. Game Reserves, on the other hand, are managed by local authorities for the benefit of the local people.
    4. Game Reserves also remit part of their revenue to the national government.
    5. The Maasai Mara is a perfect example. A high revenue earner in Kenya is managed by the local government.
    6. Formerly under Narok County Council, the reserve is now under the jurisdiction of the Narok County Government.
    7. Tsavo West National Park on the flipside is under the management of Kenya Wildlife Service, a state corporation.

Also read: 5 Best National Parks and Reserves in Kenya


2. Size

    1. Size is a distinguishing factor that is largely applicable to national parks and reserves.
    2. Going by areas covered, national parks are mostly larger than reserves.
    3. With the exception of Maasai Mara and Malka Mari, reserves are much smaller than most of the national parks.
    4. The size gives national parks an upper hand when it comes to the wildlife numbers and features inside.
    5. Maasai Mara which is the largest game reserve in Kenya measures 1,500 square kilometers which hardly compares to over 20,000 square kilometers of the Tsavo National Park ecosystem.


Ostriches inside the Amboseli. Picture/Kenya Wildlife Service


3. Rules of Engagement

    1. By assuming different management structures, national parks, and game reserves adopt different modes of operations.
    2. The national park rules are widely perceived as tight and rigid, as compared to game reserves that are more accommodative.
    3. The Kenya Wildlife Service for instance prohibits driving off-road inside national parks.
    4.  Roads in national parks are well designated, complete with speed limits (40 KPH).
    5. The experience inside game reserves is however different.
    6. Being autonomous to some extent, game reserves are likely to allow off-road game viewing.
    7. The unconventional Safaris inside game reserves usher you to more sightings and a variety of wildlife.
    8. The word “Game” has its roots in hunting, which is an exciting leisure activity in the woods.



Also read: List of National Reserves in Kenya and Their Locations



Wildlife Conservancies

    1. Conservancies were originally communal lands that were leased for the purpose of hosting wildlife, especially endangered species.
    2. Wildlife Conservancies are popular because of their exclusive wildlife viewing.
    3. Similar to animal orphanages, you get to view wild animals up close inside a conservancy.
    4. This is because conservancies are to a large extent controlled environments.
    5. The number of visitors is highly controlled so as to give you a memorable sighting of the animals.
    6. A prime example is the Ol Pejeta Conservancy where you can, for instance, interact closely with Baraka the Black Rhino.