Indian Rhinoceros
(Rhinoceros unicornis)
The largest of the Asian rhinos, the Indian rhinoceros can be easily identified by the rivet-like bumps on its deeply folded skin. It lives on floodplains and in adjacent forests, and is considered the most amphibious of all the rhino species. Conservation of the Indian rhino is regarded as a great success story. The species has been brought back from the brink of extinction by a sustained conservation effort, and numbers have increased from under 200 in the 1950s to around 2,600 today. However, there is no room for complacency, and the small population is still very vulnerable. Poaching remains a threat, and efforts to protect the species require continuing support.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Monitoring, translocation of animals from successful populations to areas of suitable habitat, habitat restoration and education programmes for local communities.
Southern Nepal and northeast India.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Rhinocerotidae
Together with equids (horses, zebras and asses) and tapirs, rhinos are the only surviving members of an ancient and formerly diverse group of ungulates, which originated in the Eocene around 50 million years ago. The ancestors of the one-horned rhinos diverged from the two-horned species around 30 million years ago. Placed in the same genus as the Javan rhino, this species is considered to be more primitive than either of the two African rhinos.
Head and body length:
Male: 368-380 cm
Female: 310-340 cm
Shoulder height
Male: 170-186 cm
Female: 148-73 cm
Tail length: 70-80 cm
Horn length: 529 mm (max.)
Weight: Male: 2,200 kg
Female: 1,600 kg
This species is the largest of the Asian rhinos. It is brownish-grey in colour and hairless, and can be differentiated from the closely related Javan rhinoceros by the fact that its deeply folded skin is covered in large, raised bumps. This gives the animal the appearance of being covered in plates of armour with rivets. The rhino has a single large horn and a semi-prehensile upper lip, which it uses to grasp food.
The species is primarily a grazer, feeding mostly on grass, leaves and twigs. It uses its prehensile upper lip to grasp the taller grasses and shrubs. The rhino feeds mostly during the cool early morning or evening. During the day, it spends long periods of time immersed in water and wallowing in mud to keep cool. Essential minerals are obtained from salt-licks, which are visited regularly. Ranges are large and overlap, and although the rhinos generally tend to avoid each other, young males will occasionally congregate in small groups at wallows. The rhinos are quite shy and will generally flee from danger rather than attack, although a mother will stay to defend her calf. The life expectancy of a wild rhino is 30-45 years, and females usually give birth to a single calf every 2-4 years.
The preferred habitat is alluvial flood plains and areas containing tall grasses and reeds. The species also inhabits adjacent swamps and forests. Rhinos may move to different habitats according to the season, although it is thought that human pressures have also had an effect, restricting ranges and forcing the animals into suboptimal habitats.
Known populations are concentrated in southern Nepal and northeast India.
Population Estimate
According to the International Rhino Foundation there are currently approximately 2,600 surviving Indian rhinos.
Classified as Endangered (EN B1+2cde ) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and listed on Appendix I of CITES.
The main reason for the species' decline is the loss of habitat due to agricultural development. This has also made rhinos more accessible to poachers, who illegally hunt them for their horns and other body parts that are used in traditional Asian medicine. While most animals are now protected in sanctuaries, poaching is still a major threat. Rhinos are also forced to compete for resources with local villagers and their livestock.
Conservation Underway
The Indian and Nepalese governments are working with international conservation organisations to enforce laws protecting the species. The situation is encouraging, with rhino numbers recovering from fewer than 200 at the start of the twentieth century to around 2,400 today. However, poaching remains a threat, as does habitat loss and degradation. Current conservation initiatives include regular patrols of protected areas by anti-poaching teams, and the translocation of animals from successful populations into protected areas within the former range.
Conservation Proposed
Maintaining the wild population is critical. Numbers need to be closely monitored and it is important to continue to protect against poaching. Translocation of animals from successful populations to areas of suitable habitat should continue, to create as many viable populations as possible. Where possible, habitat should be improved and extended, with corridors established to link protected areas. Education programmes are also essential, to teach local communities how to co-exist with the rhinos and use the land sustainably. In addition, education in consumer countries should continue along with research to find an alternative to rhino horn in traditional Asian medicine, so that incentives to poach are reduced.
International Rhino Foundation
The IRF was founded in 1993 in response to the global crisis in rhino conservation. The IRF is a collaborative conservation initiative providing technical, administrative and financial services and support for scientific research and intensive management for both captive and wild rhinos.

The rhino is one of WWF flagship species, acting as an ambassador and highlighting the need for conserving the habitats in which they live. WWF works across the globe and aims to tackle the main threats facing rhino by strengthening protected areas in Asia, lobbying to halt the illegal timber trade, and stamping out the illegal trade in horn.

Rhino Resource Centre
The Rhino Resource Center is committed to assisting research and conservation of the rhinoceros worldwide by collecting all publications and maintaining archives. The website provides data on all published work on each of the five species of rhinoceros.
Asian Rhino Specialist Group. 1996. Rhinoceros unicornis. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 09 August 2006.


Foose, T. J. F., Van Strien, N. (eds.). 1997. Asian Rhino Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group. IUCN, Cambridge UK.

International Rhino Foundation. (July 2005).

Kemf, E. and Van Strien, N. 2002. Wanted Alive: Asian Rhinos in the Wild. A WWF Species Status Report. WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Save the Rhino. (July 2005).

WWF. (July 2005).

Distribution map based on data in Thomas J. Foose and Nico van Strien (Editors). 1997. Asian Rhinos – Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK. 112 + v pp.

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