Sabah has a long history of setting aside important natural areas for conservation of its unique and rich flora and fauna. Today a variety of categories of protected areas form a crucial part of the nature conservation in the state. Under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment, 1997, there are provisions for the declaration of three types of protected areas. The first of these is Conservation Areas, for the purpose of fast and flexible protection of wildlife and habitats. Wildlife Sanctuaries is the strongest conservation category for fauna, flora, genetic resources and habitats. The third type is Wildlife Hunting Areas, intended for animal population management by regulated hunting. Currently a number of unique nature areas is in the process of being gazetted under these provisions in the Enactment.
Under the Forest Enactment, 1968 (revision of 1984) there are seven classes of forest reserves, as shown in the figure below. Four of these may be regarded as protected areas. The first of these are the Class I Protection Forests, the main function of which is to safeguard water supplies, soil fertility and environmental quality. Danum Valley and Maliau Basin which are managed by Sabah Foundation are two such Class 1 Forest reserves. Class V is mangroves. Class VI, Virgin Jungle Reserves, comprise some 50 relatively small areas intended to provide undisturbed forest for research purposes and the preservation of gene pools.
The forth conservation class is Class VII, Wildlife Reserves, which are for the protection of wildlife. The core of the large Tabin wildlife reserve today falls under Forest Class VII.
There are presently six parks gazetted under the Parks Enactment, 1984. Of these, three are Terrestrial Parks (Mt. Kinabalu, Crocker Range and Tawau Hills) and three are Marine Parks (Turtle Island, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Pulau Tiga). The state parks contain important highland forest and marine ecosystems and facilitate tourism.