All about Protected Area Networks-National Parks, Wildlife sanctuaries, Biosphere reserves and more.

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In this article we will learn the following:

    1. What is meant by a Protected Area?
    2. What are the different IUCN categories of Protected areas?
    3. Protected Area Network in India- Legal Provisions, Types, Present status.
    4. Types of Protected Area in Detail.

What is meant by a Protected Area (PA)?

In simplest terms, protected areas are regions or zones of land or sea which are given certain levels of protection for conservation of biodiversity and socio-environmental values. In these areas, human intervention and exploitation of resources is limited.

Protected Areas are the principal mechanism of conservation of biodiversity on Earth and serves as the most important units for in-situ biodiversity conservation.

There are several kinds of protected areas, which vary by level of protection. Examples include national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, marine protected areas, community reserves etc.

What are the different IUCN categories of Protected areas?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), through its World Commission on Protected Areas, has put forward six Protected Area Management Categories. The categories are as follows:

    • Category I a– Strict Nature Reserve: Protected areas managed mainly for science and receives least human intervention. E.g. Urwald Rothwald in Austria
    • Category I b – Wilderness Area: Wilderness protection. E.g. wilderness areas in the Sami native region in Finland
    • Category II – National Park: ecosystem protection and recreation
    • Category III – Natural Monument or Feature: Conservation of specific natural features. E.g. cliffs, caves, forest groves. E.g. Cono de Arita in Argentina.
    • Category IV – Habitat/Species Management Area: Conservation of specific species which require protection.
    • Category V – Protected Landscape/Seascape: Conservation of entire area. It permits surrounding community to interact. Example: Great Barrier Reef in Australia
    • Category VI – Protected Area with sustainable use of natural resources: Conservation of ecosystem and habitats together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems.
World Commission on Protected Areas

•It is one of six commissions of the IUCN. It was established in 1960 and is headquartered in Gland, Switzerland. It is administered by IUCN’s Global Programme on Protected Areas.

•The main function of the Commission is to provide scientific and technical advice to governments on matters related to Protected Areas.

Protected Area Network in India-Legal Provisions, Types, Present status

Before starting with a discussion on Protected Area Network in India, let us check certain important facts:

    • Forests and wildlife are included in the Concurrent list of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the Union government makes the policies and plans for Wildlife Conservation. On the other hand, the State Forest Departments are the ones implanting those national policies and plans at the state-level.
    • National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) puts forward policy framework for wildlife conservation in India. The Board was constituted under Wildlife (Protection) act, 1972. It is chaired by the Prime Minister.
    • Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (with Amendment Acts of 2003 and 2006)
    • It provides for the protection of plants and animal in India. The aim of the Act is to ensure the ecological and environmental security of India.
    • It is the principal act which contains provisions for setting up and managing national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas

In India, there are four major categories of Protected areas. These protected areas are constituted under the provisions of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

The four categories of protected areas are:

    1. Wildlife Sanctuaries
    2. National Parks
    3. Community Reserves
    4. Conservation Reserves

Community and Conservation reserves were first introduced in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act of 2002

As of 2019, there are 870 notified protected areas covering 5.02% of India’s land area. This is far below Target 11 of the Aichi Targets -which states that by 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas should be conserved under Protected Areas.

What are Aichi biodiversity targets:

•These are a series of goals that were set in 2010 at a Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting for protection and conservation of biodiversity.

•There are 20 Aichi Targets classified under 5 Strategic Goals. The targets were to be achieved by 2020

The following table gives the present status of various categories of Protected areas in India

CategoryNumber% Area of Country
National Parks1041.23
Wildlife Sanctuaries5513.64
Conservation Reserves880.13
Community Reserves1270.02

Apart from these protected areas, India also has the following:

    • Biodiversity Reserves
    • Tiger Reserves
    • Elephant Reserves

Types of Protected Area in Detail

Wildlife Sanctuaries

It is a protected area constituted for the protection and conservation of wildlife or its environment.  They are declared in areas that are considered to be of adequate ecological, geomorphological and natural significance.

In wildlife sanctuaries, certain rights of people living inside, are permitted as long they don’t harm the wildlife. Such activities include harvesting of timber, collecting minor forest products, livestock grazing, ownership of private land.

National Parks

It is a protected area constituted for the protection and conservation of wildlife or its environment.  They are declared in areas that are considered to be of adequate ecological, geomorphological and natural significance.

The definition of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks sounds similar. So, what is the difference between them?

National parks are given highest level of protection. Unlike wildlife sanctuaries, no human interference in any form of harvesting of timber, collecting minor forest products and private ownership rights is allowed.

Did you Know?

·Hailey National Park (presently known as Jim Corbett National Park), established in 1936 is India’s first National Park.

·Madhya Pradesh (9) and Andaman and Nicobar (9) have the highest number of National Parks.

· Maximum numbers of wildlife sanctuaries are present in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (96) followed by Maharashtra (45)

·Hemis National Park in Jammu & Kashmir is the largest National Park of India

· South Button Island National Park in Andaman and Nicobar Islands si the smallest National park of India.

To check out list of National Parks in India-Click Here

Marine Protected Areas

These are protected areas within or adjacent to seas, oceans, estuaries, lagoons. In these areas human activities are more strictly regulated than the surrounding waters.

The MPAs in India are defined according to IUCN guidelines. There are five designated MPAs in India:

•Gulf of Mannar National Park, Tamil Nadu

•Gulf of Kutch Marine National Park, Gujarat

•Gulf of Kutch Marine Sanctuary, Gujarat,

• Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Andaman & Nicobar Islands

•Gahirmatha Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, Odhisa

Conservation Reserves
    • They are declared by the State Governments in any area owned by the Government.
    • The aim of conservation reserves is to protect landscapes, seascapes, flora and fauna and their habitat.
    • They act as buffer zones between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests of India.
    • It is important to note that the rights of people living inside a Conservation Reserve are not affected.

Examples: Bankapur Peacock Conservation Reserve (Karnataka), Beas River Conservation Reserve (Punjab).

Community Reserves
  • They are declared by the State Government in any private or community land. The land should not be within a National Park, Sanctuary or a Conservation Reserve. It is basically an area where an individual or a community has volunteered to conserve wildlife and its habitat
  • These areas also act as buffer zones between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests of India. Rights of people living inside a Community Reserve are not affected.

Example: Lalwan community reserve in Punjab, Gogabeel in Bihar (1st community reserve of Bihar- recently in news)

Sacred Groves:

·They are patches of forests or natural vegetation generally dedicated to local folk deities or tree spirits

·These groves are considered “sacred” and are protected by local community. Community reserves may include such sacred groves and thus enjoy protection.

Example: Kovil Kadu at Puthupet (Tamil Nadu), Gumpa Forests (Sacred Groves attached to Buddhist monasteries) in Arunachal Pradesh


Eco-sensitive zone:

• It is an area notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), around Protected Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.

• Notifications declaring areas as ESZ are issued under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986.

• The main aim behind ESZs is to regulate certain activities and thus minimise the negative impacts of such activities on the fragile ecosystem surrounding the protected areas.

• Activities permitted: ongoing agriculture and horticulture practices by local communities, rainwater harvesting, organic farming, adoption of green technology and use of renewable energy sources.

•Recently, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change declared the National Chambal Sanctuary as an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ).

 Biosphere Reserves

  • The concept of Biosphere Reserves was introduced in 1971 as a, part of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s ‘Man and Biosphere Program’.
  • Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal/ marine ecosystems where both flora and fauna are protected and sustainable livelihood development is promoted.
  • They are ‘Science for Sustainability support sites.’ Apart from in-situ conservation, they also promote research in ecological conservation and environmental preservation.

Biosphere reserves have three-fold aim:

Firstly, they aim at conservation of genetic resources, species, and ecosystems

Secondly, they aim at scientific research and monitoring

Finally, they aim at promoting sustainable development in communities of the surrounding region

Zonation of Biosphere Reserves:

Generally, any biosphere reserve is divided into three zones for its conservation and management:

  1. Core Areas: It is a strictly Protected Area where human activities are restricted. Non-destructive research is undertaken.
  2. Buffer Zone: This is the area that surrounds the core zone. Low impact activities are undertaken in this area. Example: sustainable use of natural resources and development researches, environmental education and regulated recreation
  3. Transition Zone or Area of Cooperation: This zone lies outside the buffer zone. Here, intense human activities on sustainable use of resources by local communities are permitted.

To read the full list of Biosphere Reserves in India- Click Here

Difference between National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Biosphere Reserves
ParameterNational ParkWildlife SanctuaryBiosphere Reserve
Protection typeProtection of wildlifeReserved for species-oriented plant or animalEcosystem oriented-reserves all forms of life
LegislationWildlife Protection ActWildlife Protection ActInternationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme and nominated by national governments.
Level of ProtectionGreater degree of protection than sanctuariesLesser degree of protectionGreater Degree of Protection
Regulation of Human ActivitiesActivities like grazing, hunting, forestry or cultivation etc. are strictly prohibited.Allowed to a limited extent in the wildlife sanctuariesNo interference except in buffer and transition zone
BoundariesClearly delineated by legislationNot sacrosanctClearly delineated by legislation
Upgradation and DowngradationCannot be downgraded to a Wildlife SanctuaryCan be upgraded to a Wildlife SanctuaryNational Parks and wildlife Sanctuaries may become a part of Biosphere Reserve
IUCN StatusCategory II of the protected areasCategory IV of protected areas.Roughly corresponds to IUCN Category V of protected areas.
 Tiger Reserves
  • These are protected area that aim at conserving the habitat to ensure a viable population of the tigers along with their prey base in their habitat. They are basically national parks and wildlife sanctuaries which support a good tiger population.
  • They are established under the Project Tiger. The project was initiated in 1973. The aim is to curb factors that leads to reduction of tiger habitats and to mitigate them by suitable management. Jim Corbett in Uttarakhand is the first Tiger Reserve to be established under Project Tiger.
  • National Tiger Conservation Authority, established in 2005, oversees management of Project Tiger and Tiger Reserves in India.
  • At present, there are 50 tiger reserves in India. Orang Tiger Reserve in Assam is the 49Th tiger reserve and Kamlang Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh is the 50th.
 Elephant Reserves (ER)

Elephant reserves are protected areas declared under the Project Elephant. An elephant reserve Include protected areas and forests as well as zones of human use and habitation.

The Project Elephant was launched in 1992. It aims at better conservation of elephant through protection and management of their habitat, to address issues of man-animal conflict and ensure welfare of captive elephants.

There are two important associated concepts:

Elephant Landscape: Contiguous stretches of land with frequent movements of elephants is known as elephant landscape. Example: East-Central Landscape (South-West Bengal- Jharkhand – Orissa). It includes a number of elephant reserves such as Mayurjharna ER in West Bengal, Lemru ER in Chttisagarh.

Elephant Corridor: These are narrow strips of land that allow elephants to move from one habitat patch to another. In a 2017 study, Delhi-based non-profit, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), identified 101 elephant corridors in India

Check your progress with UPSC previous year questions

Q 1. Consider the following pairs (2013)

National ParkRiver flowing through the Park
1.      Corbett National ParkGanga
2.      Kaziranga National parkManas
3.      Silent Valley National ParkKaveri

Which of the following pairs is/are correctly matched?

    1. 1 and 2
    2. 3 only
    3. 1 and 3
    4. None

Q 2. With respect to Eco-sensitive zones, which of the following statements is/are correct? (2014)

    1. Eco-sensitive zones are areas that are declared under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
    2. The purpose of the declaration of Eco-sensitive zones is to prohibit all kinds of human activities in those zones except agriculture.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

Q 3.The most important strategy for conservation of biodiversity with traditional human life is establishment of ? (2014)

    1. Biosphere Reserves
    2. Botanical gardens
    3. National Parks
    4. Wildlife sanctuaries

Q 4.  Which of the following National Parks is unique in being swamp with floating vegetation that supports a rich biodiversity? (2015)

    1. Bhitarkanika National park
    2. Keibul Lamjao National park
    3. Keoladeo Ghana National park
    4. Sultanpur national park






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