Indian Rhino

Rhinoceros unicornis

The Indian Rhino Rhinoceros unicornis is considered monotypic—no subspecies are included.

Population

The current population of Indian Rhinos is estimated at more than 3,500 individuals. The Asian Rhino Specialist Group (AsRSG) places the population at 3,588 in its briefing document for the CITES Cop 18 meeting set for September 2019. The overall population is increasing slowly.

Range

Historically, the Indian Rhino was widespread throughout the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus River valleys, but it is now mostly restricted to eight small conservation areas in India and Nepal. (See maps)

Habitat

Prefers rivers, floodplains, swamps and adjacent forests, especially near mineral licks.

Size

Weight: 4,200–7,100 lbs (1,900–3,200 kg) Shoulder height: 5 ft 9 in–6 ft 6 in (1.75–2 m) Length nose to tail: 9 ft 10 in–13 ft 10in (3–4m) Horn length: 8–24 in (20–60 cm)

Outstanding Features

The single, somewhat stubby horn and deeply folded skin giving the appearance of armor plating are distinctive. It also has a prehensile upper lip as do the other Asian species and the Black Rhino in Africa.

Life History

Not well known, but the Indian Rhino lives for 30–45 years in the wild. Females become sexually mature at about five years and at about 10 years for males. Females give birth to a single calf every 2–3 years after a gestation period of 15–16 months. Calves can drink as much as 40–60 pints (20–30 liters) of milk a day, but start nibbling at vegetation after 3–5 months. They are only fully weaned after 18 months.

Diet

Although primarily a grazer, the Indian Rhino will also eat a variety of aquatic plants, fruit, shrubs and the smaller branches of trees. As many as 183 plants make up its diet and it will eat as much as one per cent of its body weight daily. Indian Rhinos regularly visit mineral licks.

Mobility

The Indian Rhino is an extremely good swimmer and is pretty agile on land for an animal of its size. It can reach speeds of 25 mph (40 kph).

Calls

Snorts, honks and roars are all part of the communication repertoire of 12 different sounds.

Social Behaviour

Mature males are solitary, occupying loosely defined overlapping territories that they defend aggressively. Fights between males are ferocious and can end in serious injury, even death. It is not the horn, but the razor sharp, tusk-like lower incisors that do the damage. Females are also solitary except when rearing young and moving in and out of male territories. Wallows, however, are frequently visited meeting places, often shared by several individuals. Common dung heaps, or middens, can be huge and serve as communication areas and boundary points between individuals.

Human Contact

Surviving populations live in conservation areas surrounded by intense human activity. It is not surprising, therefore, that they stray into nearby villages and raid farmlands and plantations where conflict occurs. Rhinos are responsible for several human fatalities in India and Nepal each year.

Conservation Status

Listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red Data List. Listed on CITES Appendix I.

Current Threats

Their biggest threats are primarily habitat fragmentation and encroachment, as well as conflict with local communities. In 2013, poaching deaths rose to a recent high of 41 and although the rate has since fallen, poaching remains an ever-present threat. In many of the conservation areas where rhinos are found, the rhino population density is high. Although it is good that rhino numbers are still growing, a concern is that ultimately the high density will lead to lower breeding rates. Also, the confinement of sub-populations within small, separated parks will threaten genetic diversity.