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Great Asian One-Horned Rhino

Rhinoceros unicornis 
Indian rhinoceros / ©: Michel GUNTHER/WWF-Canon
Rhinoceros unicornis Indian rhinoceros
© Michel GUNTHER/WWF-Canon
Scientific Name: Rhinoceros unicornis

Estimated Population: About 2500

Habitat and Distribution
The preferred habitat of an Indian Rhinoceros is alluvial flood plains and areas containing tall grasslands along the foothills of the Himalayas. Formerly, extensively distributed in the Gangetic plains, today the species is restricted to small habitats in Indo- Nepal terai and North Bengal, and Assam. In India rhinos are found in Kaziranga, Orang, Pobitara, Jaldapara, Dudhwa.

Unique Characteristics
The largest of the Asian Rhinos is the Indian Rhinoceros. Considered to be the most amphibious of all the rhino species, the Indian Rhino is an excellent swimmer. It can run at speeds of up to 55km/hr for short periods of time. Blessed with an excellent sense of hearing and smell, the animal has relatively poor eyesight. The average height is about 5ft. 8 in. (170cm) with a girth of 11ft (335cm). While a fully grown male rhino weighs around 2000 – 2500kg, a female weighs around 1600kg. Also referred to the Great One-Horned Rhino, the Indian rhino has a single horn, which is present in both males as well as females. The animal is solitary as a rule, though several may occupy the same patch of forest or water hole. Breeding takes place at all times of the year. The period of gestation is about 16 months and the young at birth in length is around 105 cm and weighs up to 60kg. The female attains sexual maturity in 5 years and the male between 7-10 years old.

Conservation Challenges
For years, rhinos have been widely slaughtered for their horn, a prized ingredient in traditional Asian medicines. Destruction of their habitat over the years, has brought the rhinos to the brink of extinction. These animals are among the worlds' most endangered species. The great one-horned rhino could once be found from Pakistan all the way through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. By the turn of the century, this species had vanished from much of its range, and today only about 2500 survive in India and Nepal. Throughout their range, their habitat continues to dwindle fast due to conversion of grassland habitats into agricultural fields and other human pressures. The threat of poaching continues to be ever-present.

WWF-India's Involvement
Conserving the rhinos and their habitat is imperative. WWF has been working on rhino conservation for over four decades. The big programme initiated by WWF is the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020). The vision of the programme is to increase the total rhino population in Assam to about 3000 by the year 2020 and just as significantly ensure that these rhinos are distributed over at least seven protected areas to provide long-term viability of an Assam metapopulation of the species. This will be achieved by translocating the rhinos from two-source populations (Kaziranga and Pobitara) into 3 or 4 target Protected Areas (Manas, Laokhowa, Burachapori, Kochpora, Dibrusaikhowa and, possibly, Orang).

Other Challenges
The Forest Department faces a major challenge as lack of equipment, finance, political will and shortage of staff makes it difficult to implement conservation work at the grassroot level. Two serious on the ground problems include, containing poaching and loss of habitat to encrochments.

Key Contact

  • Dipankar Ghose

    Head - Eastern Himalaya & Terai

    WWF India,
    Secretariat

    +91 11 4150 4782