Like many first time safari-goers, you might have some questions about what the difference between game reserves, national parks and concessions. We’re here to offer some clarity on how these designated areas differ, and what this means for your Botswana safari experience.
National parks vs game reserves
The difference between these is quite straightforward. A national park is government-owned and managed and a private game reserve is just that, privately owned and managed. Both national and private reserves still adhere to the same principles, rules and regulations of conservation and wildlife protection. A concession is a designated private area either within a national park or just outside it. Take the Kruger National Park for instance. This is the largest national park in South Africa and includes concessions both adjacent to or within the Kruger National Park itself. These concessions are made up of various privately-owned game reserves.
The Linyanti Wetland Reserve in Botswana is an example of a private concession
While some concessions are fenced off from the rest of the national park, some have no borders or boundaries to allow animals freedom of movement. One example of this is in Kenya, where only one or two private concessions are fenced off. Elephants, game and other migratory species are free to come and go as they please. Tanzania on the other hand, has no fencing or borders at all between concessions and national parks due to the recognised value and importance of the Wildebeest Migration.
In Botswana, concessions were the result of a boom in trophy hunting. Private reserves opened their gates to foreigners with the promise of indulgence in this ominous pass time. Since the ban on trophy hunting in Botswana, private concessions pumped money and resources into developing areas that valued conservation over recreational culling and this can be felt by anyone who experiences the joys of a Botswana safari.
Another interesting dynamic between game reserves and national parks is the degree to which local people are able to find sanctuary within the area. Moremi Game Reserve was proclaimed such to allow for local tribes to live safely and comfortably in their ancestral home.
The Moremi Game Reserve is one of Botswana’s most pristine wildlife reserves
So what does that mean for my safari experience?
National parks and private concessions differ in many regards. While the geography, flora and fauna species are the same in any particular region, the following experiences differ greatly between concessions and national parks:
Private game reserves, particularly those in Botswana, have strict limitations on the amount of tourists allowed into the reserve. The reason for this is twofold; to preserve the integrity of the ecosystem by reducing human traffic and to ensure a less crowded, more authentic safari experience. National parks have a greater influx of vehicles and visitors, which can hinder wildlife viewing. Moreover, off-road game viewing is not permitted in national parks which may limit access to great game sightings.
Chobe National Park
National parks have designated opening and closing times, which means that vehicles need to conduct their game viewing during the day time. Private reserves have no such limitations, so you can expect night game drives which bring their own unique surprises for guests. Not confined to strict rules, you can expect a wider variety of safari experiences on a private reserve, such as walking safaris in Botswana's pristine bushveld.
While accommodation for visitors in most national parks are pristine and well-maintained, if you want to experience true luxury then a private reserve is where you are most likely to find this. National park accommodation is geared towards self-drive, budget journeys rather than an elite experience.
Exclusive and intimate luxury accommodation like Zarafa Camp can be found in the private Selinda Reserve, Botswana
So how do I decide?
Both national parks and game reserves are important areas of conservation in any country. While the differences between them are minimal, the choice boils down to your safari expectations. If you are looking for an intimate and exclusive safari, then book a trip that includes a foray into a private concession. If you’re not fussy and don’t mind sharing your safari experience with plenty of people, then a national park stay is ideal. Or perhaps the best of both worlds is more up your alley. There are plenty of safari packages that include a stay at a private reserve, with the benefit of trips to the nearest national park, like this safari to Botswana and Zimbabwe.