Greater one-horned rhinoceros

The greater one-horned rhino is a conservation success, with numbers increasing dramatically since 1975.

Even so, the species faces the ever-present threat of poaching for its horn.
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Chitwan National Park is home to the second largest population of greater one-horned rhinoceros
© Sameer Singh / WWF Nepal

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Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Indian rhino, greater one-horned rhinoceros; Rhinocéros unicorne de l'Inde (Fr); Rinoceronte unicornio índico (Sp)

  • Scientific Name

    Rhinoceros unicornis

  • Location

    Grasslands and shrublands on the southern base of the Himalayas

  • Status

    Vulnerable

    More...

  • Population

    Around 3,600 individuals

Physical description 

The greater one-horned (or Indian) rhinoceros is the largest of the three Asian rhinos – and, together with African white rhinos, the largest of all rhino species.

It has a single black horn about 20-60 cm long and a grey-brown hide with skin folds, which give it an armour-plated appearance. The upper lip is semi-prehensile.

Weight:  1,800-2,700 kg

Colour: Gray brown, pinkish at the skin folds
 / ©: Jeff FOOTT / WWF-Canon
Indian rhinoceros; Chitwan National Park, Terai Arc Landscape
© Jeff FOOTT / WWF-Canon

Wandering in loosely defined territories

Social structure  
Greater one-horned rhinos are solitary, except when sub-adults or adult males gather at wallows or to graze. Males have loosely defined territories which are not well defended, and often overlap.

Life cycle
Females are sexually mature at 5-7 years old, while males mature at about 10 years of age. Breeding occurs throughout the year. The single offspring remains with the mother until the birth of her next calf, and there is an interval of about 1 to 3 years between calves. The gestation period is 15-16 months.

Diet
The greater one-horned rhino is a primarily a grazer. Its diet consists almost entirely of grasses, but it also eats leaves, branches of shrubs and trees, fruit and aquatic plants.

Population & distribution

Previous population & distribution
The greater one-horned rhino once ranged the entire stretch of the Indo-Gangetic Plain – northern Pakistan, much of northern India (including Assam), Nepal, northern Bangladesh, and Myanmar. It occurred mainly in alluvial plain grasslands, where the grass grew up to 8m tall. It was also found in adjacent swamps and forests.

The species came very close to extinction in the early 20th century. Only 600 individuals survived in the wild in 1975, in India and Nepal.

Current population & distribution
By 2011, conservation efforts saw the population grow to 2,913 in the Terai Arc Landscape of India and Nepal and the grasslands of Assam and north Bengal, northeast India. It is now often found in cultivated areas and pastures, as well as modified woodlands. 

Greater one-horned rhinos are now the most numerous of the three Asian rhino species.

With at least half of the total population, India's Kaziranga National Park remains the key reserve for this species. Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal, currently holds about 500 individuals. Strict protection has allowed the rhino population to increase, currently at a rate of approximately 5% per year.

Habitat

Major habitat type
Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands

Biogeographic realm
Indo-Malayan

Range States
Bhutan, India, Nepal

Geographical Location
Southern Asia, northern margin of the Indian subcontinent adjacent to the southern slope of the Himalayas

Ecological Region
Terai-Duar Savannas and Grasslands, Naga-Manupuri-Chin Hills Moist Forests

What are the main threats?

Hunting
Hunting was an important factor in the greater one-horned rhino's historical decline. During the last century, rhinos were hunted for sport by both Europeans and Asians. Rhinos were also killed as agricultural pests in tea plantations.

By the early 1900s, the population was so far reduced that rhino hunting was prohibited in Assam, Bengal and Myanmar.

Poaching
Poaching of greater one-horned rhinos for their horns remains a continuous threat. 

Although there is no scientific proof of its medical value, the horn is used in traditional Asian medicines, primarily for the treatment of a variety of ailments ranging from epilepsy, fevers, and strokes. Asian rhino horn is believed to be more effective than African horn. 

Despite protection – and although internatinal trade in rhino horn is banned –rhino horn is still traded extensively throughout Asia.

Habitat loss and degradation

The enormous reduction in the species' range was mainly caused by the disappearance of alluvial plain grasslands.

Today, the need for land by the growing human population remains a major threat.

Many of the protected areas with rhinos have now reached the limit of how many individuals they can support. This leads to rhino-human conflict as rhinos leave the boundaries of the protected area to forage around the surrounding villages. Rhinos, mainly females, reportedly kill several people each year in India and Nepal.
 / ©: Jim Jabara / WWF-Canon
Confiscated rhinoceros horns, tiger skin and tiger bones, Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
© Jim Jabara / WWF-Canon

What is WWF doing? 

The protected areas of India and Nepal, where this rhino survives, are surrounded by dense human populations. It is vital to ensure that communities living around rhino reserves are sympathetic to, and benefit from, the rhinos in their midst. And as rhino populations increase, more areas need to be sought for them to live.

WWF is working in both India and Nepal to conserve the greater one-horned rhino by:
  • strengthening anti-poaching efforts and protected area management 
  • trying to restore dispersal corridors
  • creating additional populations through translocations
  • working with local communities in Nepal to enable them to benefit economically from the presence of rhinos.
» WWF's work on Asian rhinos
» WWF Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy
» WWF's work in the Himalayas
 / ©: Jeff Foott / WWF Cannon
To reduce conflict with people and pressure on protected areas, WWF is involved in efforts to translocate rhinos to new areas. In Nepal, rhinos have been successfully translocated from Chitwan National Park to Bardia National Park and Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve. In India, the Rhino Vision 2020 project is translocating rhinos from high-density areas like Kaziranga National Park and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary to other secure rhino habitats in Assam such as Manas National park.
© Jeff Foott / WWF Cannon

How you can help

Make a donation

Did you know?

    • Greater one-horned rhinos use communal dung heaps, where they often scrape their feet, leaving a scent as they move around. Sadly, poachers can also track rhinos this way.
    • The single horn is present on both male and females. It starts to show after around 6 years and usually grows to about 25 cm.

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