Indian Rhino


Common Name: Indian Rhinocero
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Rhinoceridae
Genus: Rhinoceros
Species: Rhinoceros unicornis

photo:  M Noonan

Indian Rhino Taxonomy/Description

The Indian rhino's scientific name is Rhinoceros unicornis, which means "a single nose horn".  The Indian rhinoceros is a member of the rhino family, Rhinoceridae in the Mammalian Order of Perissodactyla. All other living species of rhino are also members of Rhinoceridae. Other Perissodactyls include tapirs and horses.

The Indian rhino is closely related to the Javan rhino, and both share the same genus, Rhinoceros. Similarities between the two species are quite obvious. Unlike the three other rhino species, the Indian rhino and Javan rhino have one horn. The two African species (Black rhino and White rhino) and the Sumatran rhino each have two horns. The Indian rhino, like the Javan rhino, still has incisors, differing from the two African species, which lack front teeth entirely. The Sumatran rhino retains its incisors and canines. The Indian rhino is easily recognizable by its massive skin folds. These folds resemble a medieval knight’s armor. In fact the Indian rhino and Javan rhino are so similar in appearance, they were once believed to be the same species. 

photo:  M Noonan

The Indian rhino is the largest Asian rhino species, ranging from 4,000-6,000lbs (1,800-2,700kg) and standing 5-6ft tall at the shoulder. Males are generally larger than females.


Indian Rhino Habitat/Diet

Found primarily in Northern India and Southern Nepal, the Indian rhino prefers floodplains and riverine grasslands. These ecosystems provide Indian rhinos with the fruits, leaves, and shrub branches they prefer to eat. Tall grasses are preferred to shorter species. The Indian rhino uses its semi-prehensile upper lip to curl around long grasses and branches, placing the herbage into its mouth. When feeding on shorter grasses, the Indian rhino tucks its upper lip in so it may forage closer to the ground. To avoid the mid-day heat, Indian rhinos often feed during the morning and evening hours.

photo:  M Noonan

Indian Rhino Behavior/Reproduction

Indian rhinos are primarily solitary animals, except for females with their calves. However, loosely formed groups of Indian rhinos sometimes form near common wallowing and feeding areas. Indian rhinos spend a large amount of time wallowing in mud and water, to keep insects from biting their sensitive skin. To lessen the irritation from insects, Indian rhinos have formed a symbiotic relationship with local bird species that hunt the bothersome insects that live on the rhino. Male rhinos do have territories, but they are not rigidly defended, and usually overlap. When two adult males meet, charging is a common result.

Breeding occurs throughout the year. Males become sexually mature at 9 years. Females mature at 4 years, bearing calves at 6-8 years. Competition for females is characterized by males battling one another with their tusk-like incisors. The winner breeds with the desired female. Gestation is 16 months long. Calves are precocial, weighing 160lbs at birth and walking shortly after. After about one year they leave their mother, beginning a solitary lifestyle. Indian rhinos live into their forties, but usually living no older than 45 years.

photo:  M Noonan

Indian Rhino Conservation

The Indian rhino's former range extended from Pakistan to Burma, throughout the Indian subcontinent. Unfortunately, humans were responsible for decreasing its range and population. The illegal demand for rhino horn in Oriental medicines and the deforestation of the Indian rhino's natural habitat for farmland are the main causes of its decline. Although rhino horn possesses no pharmacological properties, it is used illegally in Oriental medicine as an aphrodisiac and fever cure. Poachers can fetch as much as $30,000 for a processed kilogram of rhino horn. However, the decline of the Indian rhinoceros is only partially due to poaching for its horn. The development of its riparian habitat for crop cultivation is also responsible. Less and less natural habitat is available for the Indian rhino. As large territorial creatures, a vast area of land is required for survival.

Laws banning the hunting of Indian rhinos have been passed. A system of national parks has also been established throughout countries where Indian rhinos are found to protect the Indian rhino's natural habitat. For example, one rhino population in Nepal is guarded by over 700 armed troops and rangers - almost two guards per rhino! Human actions like these have greatly helped to increase the population of wild Indian rhinos. Captive breeding programs in zoos throughout the world have also helped to stabilize this vanishing species' population. In fact, the Buffalo Zoo is involved with such programs, and has recently bred two Indian rhinos, producing a calf.

photo:  M Noonan

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.