Rhinos and Tigers and Bears- Oh my! A short lesson in Zoogeography.

The Wizard of Oz 0019 low res

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy uttered a phrase similar to the title, but it began with Lions.  Had she, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion taken a course in zoogeography – the study of animal distributions – they wouldn’t have worried about encountering lions, tigers and bears as they walked through the Haunted Forest.  The chances of meeting up with all three creatures anywhere on the planet- save for a zoo – are essentially nil.  Lions are largely African cats, while tigers are found in Asia.  The ranges of several bear species overlap those of tigers throughout much of Asia, and the sloth bear coexists with a small population of Asiatic lions in northwestern India’s Gir forests.  However, in nature, lions, tigers and bears are not sympatric, i.e., all three don’t occupy the same habitats.

Lions can be found with both black rhinos and white rhinos in Africa, but not with any bear species.

Lions can be found with both black rhinos and white rhinos in Africa, but not with any bear species.

Tigers can be found with two species of Asian rhinos and three species of bears.

Tigers can be found with two species of Asian rhinos and three species of bears.

Now, if we substitute rhinos for lions, it’s a completely different story. These three creatures do, in fact, live together in a number of different places, which are largely those that have become final strongholds for rhinos and tigers.  As you might guess, none are in Kansas, so Dorothy would have been right when she determined that she wasn’t there anymore. The number of localities occupied by rhinos, tigers and bears are few.  You can count them using two hands and one foot.  Three of the localities are on the island of Sumatra, where the representative species are the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrensis) and Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). Ten other protected areas harboring rhinos, tigers and bears are located in northeastern India and neighboring Nepal.  There the trio consists of the greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and at least one, if not two species of bear – the sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) and the Asiatic black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus).

Sumatran rhinos share their tropical forest habitats with sun bears on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Sumatran rhinos share their tropical forest habitats with sun bears on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Greater on-horned rhinos share their habitats in India and Nepal with sloth bears and Asiatic black bears.

Greater on-horned rhinos share their habitats in India and Nepal with sloth bears and Asiatic black bears.

Unfortunately, all of these large mammals and their remaining habitats are threatened to some degree, so it is incredibly important that efforts to safeguard their future continue.  Rhinos, tigers and bears can serve as flagships for broader wildlife conservation programs that protect dozens of other endangered plant and animal species, especially since people will travel the world for the rare opportunity to see them protected in their natural habitats.  Three projects supported by the International Rhino Foundation that benefit all three flagship species include Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) in Indonesia’s Bukit Barisan Selatan and Way Kambas National Park’s, and the reintroduction of greater one-horned rhinos to Assam’s Manas National Park under the auspices of Indian Rhino Vision 2020.

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