/ ©: Jeff Foott / WWF

Greater one-horned rhino

The greater one-horned rhino is a conservation success, with numbers increasing significantly since 1975. Back then there were only 600 rhinos left in the wild.

After decades of successful efforts, the species increased to 3,555 in India and Nepal by mid-2015. The one-horned rhino is now the most numerous of the three Asian rhino species.

Even so, the species faces the ever-present threat of poaching for its horn and continuing habitat loss.
 / ©: Sumanth Kuduvalli / Felis Creations / WWF
Greater one-horned rhino in Nepal during 2015 census
© Sumanth Kuduvalli / Felis Creations / WWF

Physical description 

The greater one-horned rhinoceros is the largest of the three Asian rhinos and, together with African white rhinos, is the largest of all rhino species. Males can weigh up to 2.7 tonnes.

The rhinos have a single black horn between 20-60 cm long and a grey-brown hide with skin folds, which give it an armor-plated appearance. The upper lip is semi-prehensile.


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.

Females become sexually mature at 5-7 years old, while males mature at about 10. Breeding occurs throughout the year, with a gestation period of 15-16 months. The single offspring remains with the mother until the birth of her next calf, usually after 1 to 3 years.

The rhino is a primarily a grazer. Its diet consists almost entirely of grasses, but it also eats leaves, branches, fruit and aquatic plants.

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 / ©: Sumanth Kuduvalli / Felis Creations / WWF
Greater one-horned rhino in Nepal during the 2015 census
© Sumanth Kuduvalli / Felis Creations / WWF

Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Indian rhino, greater one-horned rhino; Rhinocéros unicorne de l'Inde (Fr)

  • Scientific Name

    Rhinoceros unicornis

  • Location

    Grasslands and shrublands on the southern base of the Himalayas

  • Status


  • Population

    3,555 in mid-2015

Population & distribution

The greater one-horned rhino once ranged from northern Pakistan, across much of northern India, Nepal, northern Bangladesh, and Myanmar. It occurred mainly in alluvial 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 20th century. And by 1975, only 600 individuals survived in the wild in India and Nepal.

Decades of conservation efforts have seen the population grow to 3,555 in the Terai Arc Landscape of India and Nepal and the grasslands of Assam and north Bengal, northeast India. It is now found in cultivated areas and pastures, as well as modified woodlands.

With at least half of the total population, India's Kaziranga National Park remains the key reserve for this species. Across the border, the number of rhinos in Nepal has risen from 375 in 2005 to 645 a decade later. The majority of them are in the Royal Chitwan National Park.

Strict protection has seen the rhino population increase at a rate of approximately 5% per year. And thanks to a comprehensive approach, Nepal has achieved three years of zero poaching of rhino since 2011.

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

Biogeographic realm

Range States
India, Nepal

Geographical Location
Southern Asia. Rhinos currently live in the northern margin of the Indian subcontinent adjacent to the southern slopes of the Himalayas.

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

What are the main threats?

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. But by the early 1900s, the population had collapsed so hunting was prohibited in Assam, Bengal and Myanmar.

However, poaching for their horns remains a serious threat. Despite being illegal, rhino horn is still used in some traditional Asian medicines for the treatment of a variety of ailments.

Another major threat is continued habitat loss and degradation. The enormous reduction in the species' historic range was mainly caused by the disappearance of alluvial plain grasslands.

But the growing human population means rhino habitat is still under pressure.

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.
 / ©: Robert Patterson / WWF
A rhino horn and tiger teeth for sale on the table of a black market animal trade dealer at his home in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnam is the world’s largest recipient of illegal rhino horn from South Africa.
© Robert Patterson / WWF
 / ©: Sumanth Kuduvalli / Felis Creations / WWF
Habitat of greater one-horned rhino in Nepal. Habitat loss is one of the major threats facing the species.
© Sumanth Kuduvalli / Felis Creations / WWF

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; and
  • working with local communities in Nepal to enable them to benefit economically from the presence of rhinos.
 / ©: Jeff Foott / WWF
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

How you can help

  • Don't buy rhino horn products. Illegal trade in rhino horn is a continuing problem, posing one of the greatest threats to rhinos.
  • Spread the word! Click on the button to share this information with others via email or your favourite social networking service

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 / ©: National Geographic Stock / Michael Nichols / WWF
© National Geographic Stock / Michael Nichols / WWF

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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