About 113,000 km² (15 percent of the land area of the hotspot), is under some form of protection in the Himalaya region, although only 78,000 km² (roughly 10 percent) are in protected areas in IUCN categories I to IV.
While the earliest protected areas, in Assam, were established as wildlife sanctuaries in 1928 and 1934, most other protected areas in the region are relatively new, having been established only in the last three or four decades. However, many hill-tribe communities have traditionally recognized and protected sacred groves, which have served as effective refuges for biodiversity for centuries. Today, several protected areas — Corbett National Park, Manas National Park, Kaziranga National Park, Chitwan National Park, and Sagarmatha National Park — have been distinguished as World Heritage Sites for their contribution to global biodiversity.
In the northeastern Himalayan states of India, a network of protected areas established in the 1970s and 1980s, including Corbett and Rajaji National Parks. These protected areas harbor important populations of elephants and tigers. In Nepal, 21 protected areas cover at least 26,666 km² of land. Chitwan, which was established as the country’s first national park in 1973, is well known for its tiger and greater one-horned rhinoceros ( Rhinoceros unicornis, EN) populations. Also in Nepal, the Annapurna Conservation Area, the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area and the Makalu-Barun National Park are all run through community-based biodiversity management.
Although a protected area system was established in Bhutan as early as the 1960s, this system was dominated by the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park. The park was mostly confined to the north of the country, and did little to contribute towards biodiversity conservation because most of the park protected vast areas of permanent rock and ice. In 1995, the protected area system was revised to include all nine of the current protected areas (five national parks, three wildlife sanctuaries, and one strict nature reserve) accounting for almost 26 percent of the total land area in Bhutan. In 1999, based on a WWF field survey, another 9 percent was added to the system in the form of 12 biological corridors, which linked the protected areas to create a conservation landscape extending across the country. The biological corridors provide connectivity between parks and reserves for wildlife species such as tigers and snow leopard to follow seasonal movement of their prey species. The Royal Government of Bhutan is committed to maintaining 60 percent of their forest cover in perpetuity along with the biological corridors
Transboundary conservation areas offer an important opportunity for conservation in the Himalaya region. The adjoining Manas National Park in Bhutan and Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam, India, is one such complex. Another important initiative is the plan to create a tri-national peace park with the Kanchanjunga Conservation Area in Nepal, the Kanchendzoga National Park in Sikkim, India, and an extension of the Qomolungma Nature Reserve in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
Nevertheless, many of the protected areas in the Himalayas, particularly in the lowlands along south-facing slopes, are too small to maintain viable populations of threatened species, and efforts should be made to expand conservation benefits to adjacent areas. Furthermore, about 17 percent of the protected area system across the Himalayan Mountains consists of permanent rock and ice – majestic, but biologically impoverished habitats.
The protected area network in the Himalaya Hotspot needs to be expanded in a way that best protects biodiversity over the long term. In addition to biological corridors and conservation landscapes, biodiversity is best conserved through the conservation of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), sites holding populations of globally threatened or geographically restricted species. KBAs are discrete biological units that contain species of global conservation concern and that can be potentially managed for conservation as a single unit. Building from the network of Important Bird Areas, data on globally threatened species in other taxonomic groups were synthesized from a number of sources, and in collaboration with local partners, to identify an initial set of 175 KBAs in the Himalaya Hotspot.
Investment in biodiversity conservation in the Himalayan Region comes primarily from national governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies, and international and regional NGOs. The national governments, backed by international agencies such as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank, the European Union (EU), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), WWF, and the MacArthur Foundation, are supporting projects to improve protected area management, sustainable natural resources, and livelihoods.
Many of the largest projects target communities living in and around forested areas, with the idea that decreasing poverty and increasing awareness and ownership over resources will result in greater biodiversity conservation. For instance, the Livelihoods and Forestry Program, to be implemented by The British Aid Agency (DFID), calls for GBP 8.2 million to be spent over 10 years on promoting active community management of forests in the Terai Arc Landscape of Nepal. Other projects are targeted towards the conservation of specific species, such as the snow leopard.