7 IUCN Categories of Protected Areas and Examples

The preservation of sites with cultural and religious significance makes protected areas essential to the cultures, livelihoods, and local communities of Indigenous peoples. They offer clean air and water, give recreation and restoration, and through tourism, benefit millions of people.

To aid in the creation and comprehension of protected area systems in various national contexts and legal systems, the IUCN has created a set of generalized protected area management categories one can call “the IUCN categories of protected areas”.

National parks, national reserves, and forest reserves are just a few of the different types of protected areas that each nation in the region has specified by legislation and policy. Typically, these definitions differ from nation to nation.

Although there isn’t always an “exact” match and not all categories are frequently represented in a given country or region, they can usually be compared to the IUCN categories.

The whole spectrum of categories I through VI enables protected area systems to include both those where sustainable activities are permitted and those where human activities are rigorously controlled.

IUCN Categories of Protected Areas

  • Category Ia – strict nature reserve
  • Category Ib – wilderness area
  • Category II – national park
  • Category III – natural monument or feature
  • Category IV – habitat or species management area
  • Category V – protected landscape or seascape
  • Category VI – protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

Category Ia – strict nature reserve

To preserve its biodiversity and perhaps even its geological and geomorphic traits, an area is designated as a strict nature reserve  (IUCN Category Ia). These locations frequently contain thick native ecosystems, and all human intervention is forbidden here save from scientific research, environmental monitoring, and educational activities.

These locations offer ideal, pristine habitats that make it possible to quantify external human effects by comparing them to other areas because they are so rigorously protected.

Tsingy de Bermaraha, Tsaratanana, and Betampona in Madagascar and Aldabra Atoll, Cousin, La Digue, and Aride in Seychelles are a few examples.

Category Ib – wilderness area

Similar to a strict nature reserve, a wilderness area (IUCN Category Ib) is protected less strictly and is typically larger.

These regions are a protected realm where ecosystem processes (including evolution) and biodiversity are allowed to flourish or undergo restoration if they were previously harmed by human activities. These are regions that might act as a climate change buffer while defending endangered species and biological communities.

Examples include Moremi, Khutse, and   Central   Kalahari   Game Reserves (Botswana), and Koko Hill, Mamboya, and Ikwamba Forest Reserves (Tanzania).

Category II – national park

A wilderness area and a national park (IUCN Category II) are similar in size and both have the same primary goal of preserving healthy ecosystems. National parks, on the other hand, frequently tolerate more human traffic and the associated infrastructure.

By supporting educational and recreational tourism on a scale that won’t compromise conservation efforts, national parks are administered in a way that may boost local economies.

Examples include Parc Marin de Mohéli (Comoros), Amboseli and  Masai  Mara  (National  Reserve) (Kenya), Niassa (National Reserve) (Mozambique), Volcans (Rwanda) Kruger (South Africa) Serengeti (Tanzania), Bwindi Impenetrable (Uganda), Kafue (Zambia).

Category III – natural monument or feature

A natural monument or feature (IUCN Category III) is a comparatively smaller area set aside specifically to protect the habitats around a natural monument. These monuments may be entirely natural in every way, or they may have parts that were modified or added by people.

The latter should be associated with biodiversity or could be categorized as a historical or spiritual place, however, it can be challenging to make this distinction.

Examples include Namibia’s Popa Game Park and Gross Barmen Hot Springs, Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls National Park, Toro-Semliki, Karuma, Bugungu, and a variety of other wildlife parks in Uganda.

Category IV – habitat or species management area

Although size is not always a defining characteristic, a habitat or species management area (IUCN Category IV) is similar to a natural monument or feature but focuses on more specific areas of conservation, such as an identifiable species or habitat that needs ongoing protection.

Public awareness of these protected places is strongly encouraged as part of the management objectives. These protected areas will be appropriately controlled to ensure the maintenance, conservation, and restoration of specific species and habitats—possibly by traditional means.

Examples include Partial Reserve Namibe (Angola) Maun Game Sanctuary (Botswana) Gash-Setit Wildlife Reserve (Eritrea), Alledeghi and Bale Wildlife Reserves (Ethiopia), Sehlabathebe National Park (Lesotho), Majete and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserves (Malawi) Poudre d’Or and Trou d’Eau Douce Fishing Reserves (Mauritius), and Sabaloka Game Reserve (Sudan).

Category V – protected landscape or seascape

A whole body of land or ocean is covered by a protected landscape or protected seascape (IUCN Category V), which typically also allows for a variety of for-profit activities.

Protecting areas that have developed a distinctive and valuable ecological, biological, cultural, or scenic character is the major goal. In contrast to the preceding categories, Category V enables the neighborhood’s communities to engage with the region’s natural and cultural assets and contribute to its sustainable management.

Imatong Forest Reserve (South Sudan), Libhetse Nature Reserve (Eswatini), Iles Musha, and Maskhali (Djibouti), as well as other locations in Madagascar.

Category VI – protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

Stream in Tsarmitunturi Wilderness Area

Even though humans play a significant role in the management of these protected areas, advancements are not meant to enable extensive industrial activity.

The IUCN advises that a percentage of the land mass be kept in its natural state; this choice must be determined at the national level, typically with consideration of each protected area separately. To accommodate the wide range of interests that result from the exploitation of sustainable natural resources, governance must be formed.

Beacon, Booby Island, Etoile, and Mamelles Nature Reserves (Seychelles); Dabus Valley, Jikao, Tedo, Omo West, and numerous additional Controlled Hunting Areas (Ethiopia); Matetsi, Sapi, and Hurungwe Safari Areas (Zimbabwe).

Why it is necessary to protect some areas

The goal of the Rainforest Trust has been to stop deforestation and habitat degradation in tropical regions by establishing protected areas for more than 30 years.

Critical habitat is increasingly under threat worldwide, from forest fires brought on by slash-and-burn farming to land removal for massive construction to desertification. The outcomes endanger our planet and all of its inhabitants.

The following are the top five justifications for why protected areas are important

  • Protect Biodiversity
  • Prevent the Spread of Disease
  • Encourage Regional Economic Growth
  • Ensure Food and Water Security
  • Build Resilience Against Climate Change

1. Protect Biodiversity

Currently, we are experiencing the sixth major extinction event. The rate of extinction of species is frightening. For species to live in nature unaffected by human influence, protected areas maintain vital habitats.

Recent research has shown that populations of these species increase by 14.5% when they dwell on protected territory and that the average number of species in a protected area is 10.6% larger than outside.

2. Prevent the Spread of Disease

Habitat destruction displaces biodiversity and unbalances ecosystems. The rise of zoonotic diseases is made possible by the displacement of wildlife to marginal habitats and the increase in human contact.

60% of infectious diseases, including SARS-CoV-2, Lyme, and Ebola, are thought to have zoonotic origins. Protected places maintain healthy ecosystems, which is essential for preventing sickness.

3. Encourage Regional Economic Growth

Protected areas have the potential to boost local economies when they are developed in cooperation with neighboring communities. Ecotourism is popular in many protected regions, generating new income that directly benefits local populations. People from the community frequently work in the protected area or in a sector that promotes tourism.

4. Ensure Food and Water Security

Millions of people rely on the food that is grown or acquired in protected areas. For thousands of years, local communities have relied on fish, plants, fruits, honey, and other nutritional staples from protected areas to sustain their biodiversity in ecosystems.

Best agricultural practices are frequently promoted in management plans, increasing the availability of produce for local populations to use or sell. These places also safeguard the watersheds that supply clean water.

5. Build Resilience Against Climate Change

Many of the habitats in our world, such as forests, peat bogs, and oceans, store excess greenhouse gases like carbon and keep them out of our atmosphere, which controls the temperature on a global scale.

However, if they are exterminated due to unsustainable growth, our planet’s climate will become less stable and more unpredictable, which will make us more vulnerable to the dangerous consequences of climate change.

The simplest way to stop these damaging human-induced activities and, thus, trap carbon to slow climate change, is to establish and maintain protected areas.

Protected spaces are crucial. When nature is preserved and flourishes, everyone benefits. There has never been a more pressing need. Donate now to share in our impact.


Without the presence of these critical ecosystems, there would not be the sustainability of life hence the need to protect these areas.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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