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Acurizal Private Protected Area, Pantanal, Brazil. © Ecotropica

Private Protected Areas

Areas protected under private ownership and management

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While there is no definitive unique definition of a private protected area, they have been defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as ‘ sites owned freehold or formally leased by individuals, corporations and other private bodies in which wildlife conservation is a primary activity and the responsibility of such owners or leaseholders ’.1 This form of governance comprises protected areas under individual, cooperative, NGO or corporate control and/or ownership, and managed under not-for-profit or for-profit schemes. Private protected areas can and do fall into all of the IUCN management categories. Although, most marine waters are not privately owned, an increasing number of privately-owned islands are being protected, including their coastal and marine areas. While some private protected areas are included within national protected area networks that are available within the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), in many countries where they are not supported by national legislation their locations are often difficult to obtain.

A study conducted by UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in 1996 showed that in a selection of Southern African countries private protected areas are more numerous and extensive in areas than legally designated sites.2 Some of the oldest protected areas were originally established through private initiatives, and there is increasing acknowledgement of the importance of the private sector to conservation strategies and relevant contribution to biodiversity conservation. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s programme of work on protected areas comments on the importance of recognizing and promoting a broad set of protected area governance types including private nature reserves.3


Supported by

Individuals, corporations and other private bodies


Year of creation

The earliest established private protected areas for wildlife and their habitat can be traced back to around 200 BC, which were mainly for use by royalty (for more information see 'History of Areas').





There are no specific criteria for designation of private protected areas but they must be under some form of private ownership and ideally dedicated in perpetuity to the conservation of wildlife and natural resources.4 In practice, however, commitment on perpetuity varies and may be renewed formally or informally from time to time by the owners depending on their preferences and incentives. For a better understanding of the diversity of private protected areas and support their conservation efforts, some researchers have categorised them based loosely on the IUCN typology.4 The categorisation includes ‘formal parks’, which are under private ownership and are legally recognised, ‘program participants’, which is an area protected under a voluntary incentive program, ‘hunting reserves’ maintained for sustainable wildlife utilization, ‘ecotourism reserves’ for promoting conservation with tourism, ‘farmer owned forest patches’ for locally occurring environmental services, ‘personal retreat reserves’ for individual or families, ‘NGOs reserves’ owned by local, national or international not-for profit organisations for conservation, and corporate reserves, which are owned by private for-profit companies.



These areas can be managed under a range of different objectives (see IUCN Protected Areas categories for further information on management objectives). The authority for managing the protected land and resources rests with the landowners, who determine the conservation objective, develop and enforce management plans and remain in charge of decisions, subject to applicable legislation. In cases where there is no official recognition by the government, the accountability of private protected areas to society may be limited. The conservation objectives of these areas vary with ownership. For example, those acquired by NGOs are managed predominantly for conservation, whereas individual landowners, in addition to a desire to support conservation, may pursue revenues from ecotourism and hunting, or a reduction in levies and taxes. These differences in objectives will result in a variation of management regimes within such areas. Private protected areas are in most cases managed to secure biodiversity conservation although the motivations to do so will vary.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance: The legal recognition and protection of different categories of private protected areas varies. In some countries, private protected areas, particularly those under the category of ‘formal parks’ are legally gazetted through legislations or executive decrees and are monitored and evaluated by government. Those areas which are protected under formal voluntary incentive programs designed to promote biodiversity conservation on private lands are also recognised and protected under rules of the program for the contract period. Similarly, for other categories that are not necessarily legally gazetted, different laws and regulations that relate to activities conducted within such areas are likely to apply in order to maintain the conservation values. As some of these sites are legally protected areas, many will be included in a number of international environmental safeguard standards (see IUCN Protected Areas categories for further information on environmental standards safeguards that relate to protected areas).

Biodiversity: The biodiversity value of private protected areas varies as some sites are strictly reserved for the conservation of important species and habitats, while for others conservation is not the sole objective. Several private protected areas are also maintained for their role in ecosystem services, where conservation may be one component of a diverse land-use strategy combined with agriculture, animal husbandry and watershed protection.

Socio-cultural: These areas are not directly associated with socio-cultural values, although a variety of human activities can be expected within such areas, such as ecotourism and recreational hunting, and many may hold cultural values such as recreation, as well as economic values such as the sustainable extraction of resources and commodities. These areas are however, not typically those where traditional practices are carried out by local and indigenous communities.



  • Protected Planet is a tool for visualizing, mapping and contributing to information on protected areas. This includes information on some of the Private protected areas where known and legally gazetted. Protected Planet brings together spatial data, descriptive information and images from the World Database on Protected Areas, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), WikipediaTM, PanaramioTM, FlickrTM, and Google MapsTM.


  1. Dudley, N. (Editor) (2008) Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. x + 86pp.
  2. Watkins, C.W., Barrett, A.M., Smith, R. and Paine J.R. (1996) Private Protected Areas: A Preliminary Study of Private Initiatives to Conserve Biodiversity in Selected African Countries. World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge.
  3. Carter, E., Adams, W., Hutton, J. (2008) Private protected areas: management regimes, tenure arrangements and protected area categorization in East Africa. Oryx 42(2) 177-186.
  4. Langholz, J.A. and Lassoie, J.P. (2001) Perils and promise of privately owned protected areas. Bioscience 51 (12): 1079-1085.


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