By definition, protected area is an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means (c.f. IUCN). From the Bhutanese conservation perspective, protected area is an area, which has been declared to be a national park, conservation areas; wildlife sanctuary, wildlife reserve, nature reserve, strict nature reserve, research forest, critical watershed or other protected areas, in accordance with Chapter VI of Forest and Nature Conservation Rules, 2006 (RGOB, 2006). These definitions, particularly the latter, indicate the existence of various categories of protected areas.
The IUCN categories of protected areas include Strict Nature Reserve (wilderness protected areas managed for science or wilderness protection—Category Ia); Wilderness Areas (managed mainly for wilderness protection—Category Ib); National Parks (wilderness areas managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation—Category II); Natural Monument (protected areas managed mainly for conservation of specific natural features—Category III); Habitat/Species Management Areas (managed mainly for conservation through management intervention—Category IV); Protected Landscape/Seascape (managed mainly for conservation of landscape or recreation—Category V) and Managed Resource Protected Areas (managed mainly for sustainable use of resources—Category VI). These categories are, however, not restrictive as other types of classification do prevail.
Currently, the protected areas in Bhutan are grouped into the following categories: National Parks (Jigme Dorji National Park, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Thrumshingla National Park and Royal Manas National Park), Strict Nature Reserve (Toorsa Strict Nature Reserve) and Wildlife Sanctuaries (Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary). These protected areas are connected by ‘Biological Corridors’ that are, perhaps, considered as one of the categories of protected areas. Inclusive of the biological corridors, protected areas in Bhutan constitute about 39.5% of the total geographical area of 38,394 square km (Gurung, 2008). Obviously, the rural communities living within the boundaries of these protected areas are integral part of the protected area ecosystem.
Creation of protected area in Bhutan started with the notification of the Manas Game Sanctuary in 1966 (Tsering, 2002). Doga National Park, Laya Wildlife Sanctuary, Gasa Wildlife Sanctuary, Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary, Goley Game Reserve, Mochu Reserved Forest, Phochu Reserve Forest and Khaling Reserved Forest were added in 1974. In 1984 Goley Game Reserve was named Namgyal Wangchuck Reserve, Phochu as Mochu Reserved Forest and the following were added: Zhosing Reserved Forest, Shumar Wildlife Reserve, Dungsum Wildlife Reserve, Sinchula Reserved Forest, and Neoli Wildlife Sanctuary. By 1993, major revision were made to form Jigme Dorji National Park, Royal Manas National Park, Thrumshingla National Park (new), Toorsa Strict Nature Reserve (new), Khaling-Neoli Wildlife Sanctuary, Kulong Chhu (Bomdelling, new) Wildlife Sanctuary, Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (new). By 2001, these protected areas were connected by biological corridors. Policy and legislation of these protected areas are done by the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules of 1995, revised in 2006.