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Greater One-Horned Rhino

Facts

  • Status
    Vulnerable
  • Population
    3,500+ individuals
  • Scientific Name
    Rhinoceros unicornis
  • Height
    5.75 - 6.5 feet
  • Weight
    4,000-6,000 pounds
  • Length
    10- 12.5 feet
  • Habitats
    Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands
Population distribution of the GOH Rhino

Population distribution of the Greater One Horned Rhino (Click for larger view)

The greater one-horned rhino (or “Indian rhino”) is the largest of the rhino species. Once widespread across the entire northern part of the Indian sub-continent, rhino populations plummeted as they were hunted for sport or killed as agricultural pests. This pushed the species very close to extinction and by the end of the 20th century, fewer than 200 animals remained.

The recovery of the greater one-horned rhino is among the greatest conservation success stories in Asia. Thanks to strict protection and management from Indian and Nepalese wildlife authorities, the greater one-horned rhino was brought back from the brink. Today populations have increased to around 3,500 rhinos in northeastern India and the Terai grasslands of Nepal.

The greater one-horned rhino is identified by a single black horn about 8-25 inches long and a grey-brown hide with skin folds, which gives it an armor-plated appearance. The species is solitary, except when adult males or rhinos nearing adulthood gather at wallows or to graze. Males have loosely defined home ranges that are not well defended and often overlap. They primarily graze, with a diet consisting almost entirely of grasses as well as leaves, branches of shrubs and trees, fruit, and aquatic plants.

In a blow to wildlife, China lifts a ban on the use of tiger and rhino parts

In an enormous setback for wildlife conservation, China announced it will allow hospitals to use tiger bone and rhino horn from captive-bred animals for traditional medicine. The decision reverses a decades-old ban that has been instrumental in preventing the extinction of endangered tigers and rhinos.

Bengal Tiger in the Ranthambore National Park, India

Why They Matter

  • Rhinos share their homes with other valuable plants and animals. When we protect greater one-horned rhinos, we also help protect these other species. These rhinos are also a symbol of national pride in the countries where they are found, which inspires environmental stewardship among local communities. These communities also benefit from the revenue generated through rhino ecotourism.

Threats

  • Population 3,500+ individuals
  • Extinction Risk Vulnerable
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Greater One Horned Rhino

Today, the need for land by a growing human population is a threat to the species. Many of the protected areas with rhinos have now reached the limit of the number of individuals they can support.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

Poaching for the illegal trade in rhino horn remains the biggest threat to the greater one-horned rhino. 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 including epilepsy, fevers, and cancer. Extensive illegal trade persists throughout Asia despite protections and bans on international trade of rhino horn.

Population Density and Genetic Diversity

High population density in some parks leads to lower breeding rates. Also, concerns exist about long term viability of sub-populations due to lack of genetic diversity.

Habitat Loss

The enormous reduction in the range of rhinos was mainly caused by the disappearance of alluvial plain grasslands. Today, the growing human population’s need for land threatens the species. Many of the protected areas where rhinos live have reached the limit of the number of individuals they can support. This leads to human-rhino conflict, as rhinos more frequently leave the boundaries of protected areas to forage in the surrounding villages. Rhinos reportedly kill several people each year in India and Nepal.

What WWF Is Doing

Rhino and calf Manas

Newborn rhino calf trailing its mother in a remote section of Manas National Park in the northeast corner of India.

Increasing Populations

WWF seeks to create three new populations of at least 10 greater one-horned rhinos each in the next five years. The Indian state of Assam is home to the largest population of greater-one horned rhinos, with more than 90% in Kaziranga National Park. Since 2008, the Indian government, along with WWF and other partners, has translocated 18 rhinos from Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary to Assam’s Manas National Park on the India-Bhutan border. As of 2017, Manas was home to 29 rhinos. In India, WWF aims to expand the number of greater one-horned rhinos to 3,000—spread out over seven protected areas—by 2020. In Nepal, the goal is to increase the rhino population from 645 to 800 individuals in the coming years. In March 2016, five rhinos were translocated from Chitwan National Park to the Babai Valley of Bardia National Park in Nepal. Two of the translocated females gave birth within a few months—an encouraging sign that they are adjusting well to the new habitat.

Monitoring and Protection

WWF helps to strengthen security measures and provides critical support for anti-poaching efforts at key sites including Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora and Laokhowa-Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuaries. We also invest in improving rhino monitoring to collect data and measure progress toward achieving rhino conservation goals, assess the reproductive health and growth rate of populations, and make the right decisions to keep rhino numbers growing at a rate of at least 3%.

Restoring Landscapes

Greater One Horned Rhino

As rhino populations increase, they need additional space to live and breed. WWF and partners restore rhino habitat in Nepal to increase rhino numbers and improve connectivity between protected areas. Chitwan National Park's population of greater one-horned rhinos is the second largest population of this species in the world, after India's Kaziranga National Park. In Kaziranga National Park, WWF works to secure habitat corridors so that rhinos have access to higher areas outside of the park during annual floods.

Working with Local Communities

Greater One Horned Rhino

Planting mentha (mint) helps reduce human-wildlife conflict.

The protected areas of India and Nepal, where rhinos reside, are surrounded by dense human populations. It is vital to ensure that communities that live around rhino reserves are sympathetic to, and benefit from, the rhinos in their midst. WWF supports several projects to improve local livelihoods, like the successful community-run Marmelous juice factory in Khata, Nepal. We help decrease conflict between people and rhinos by encouraging farmers to plant unpalatable species like mentha (mint) that generates money for the communities and supports community-based antipoaching operations.

Strengthening Law Enforcement

WWF partners with national governments to strengthen wildlife laws and their enforcement, and fund antipoaching equipment and operations in protected areas. In response to a poaching spike in Nepal in 2006, WWF increased the number of security posts from eight to 20. We also engaged ex-army and police to patrol vulnerable points outside protected areas. Local youth volunteered to guard individual rhinos through the night. WWF relayed the information collected by these allies to key government departments so they could take action where needed. Nepal’s concerted efforts to protect rhinos has resulted in the country achieving four periods of 365 days each of zero rhino poaching since 2011. Today, more than 645 one-horned rhinos live in Nepal—the highest number recorded in the country so far. In 2015, Nepal hosted the first symposium focused on getting to zero poaching. Under Nepal’s leadership, delegates from more than 13 Asian countries shared best practices, tools, and technologies that can be used to respond to the poaching crisis.

Tackling Illegal Wildlife Trade

WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, work to stop trafficking of rhino horn by funding antipoaching patrols and supporting intelligence networks in strategic locations to prevent rhinos from entering black markets in Asia. We support the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) so that regional governments can combine information and resources. This includes using early warning systems, investing in effective legislation, and improving enforcement of policies and laws.

Experts

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