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Greater One Horned Rhino

Overview

  • Status
    Vulnerable
  • Population
    over 3,000 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

The greater one-horned rhino is the largest of the rhino species. Once found across the entire northern part of the Indian sub-continent, rhino populations were severely depleted as they were hunted for sport and killed as agricultural pests. This pushed the species very close to extinction in the early 20th century and by 1975 there were only 600 individuals surviving in the wild.

Thanks to rigorous conservation efforts, their numbers have increased dramatically since 1975. By 2012, conservation efforts saw the population grow to over 3,000 in the Terai Arc Landscape of India and Nepal, and the grasslands of Assam and north Bengal in northeast India.

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 give it an armor-plated appearance. Greater one-horned rhinos are solitary creatures, except when sub-adults or adult males gather at wallows or to graze. Males have loosely defined home ranges that are not well defended and often overlap. They are primarily grazers, with a diet consisting almost entirely of grasses as well as leaves, branches of shrubs and trees, fruit and aquatic plants.

Map data provided by IUCN.

New Technology to Fight Wildlife Crime

The use of technologies like unmanned aerial vehicles gives park rangers a vital advantage against dangerously armed poachers.

Park rangers in Nepal carrying UAVs

Why They Matter

  • In almost all rhino conservation areas, there are other valuable plants and animals. The protection of rhinos helps protect other species.

Threats

  • Population over 3,000 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 of greater one-horned rhinos for their horns continues to be a major threat. 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 strokes. Asian rhino horn is believed to be more effective than African horn. Despite protections and bans on international trade of rhino horn, extensive illegal trade persists throughout Asia.

Hunting

Hunting was an important factor in the historical decline of the greater one-horned rhino. During the last century, rhinos were hunted for sport by both Europeans and Asians. Rhinos were also killed as agricultural pests in tea plantations. By the early 1900s, rhino hunting was prohibited in parts of India and Myanmar. Poaching remains the biggest threat to rhinos, and is driven by the increase in demand for rhino horn, particularly among Asia’s growing middle class.

Habitat Loss

The enormous reduction in the range of rhinos was mainly caused by the disappearance of alluvial plain grasslands. Today, the need for land by the 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. This leads to human-rhino conflict as rhinos leave the boundaries of the protected areas to forage in the surrounding villages. Rhinos, mainly females, 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.

In September 2012, a rhino monitoring team of Forest Department staff and WWF-India researchers were delighted to see a newborn rhino calf trailing its mother in a remote section of Manas National Park in the northeast corner of India. Born to a rhino that was translocated in January 2012, the calf is a cause for celebration among conservationists. It indicates that translocated rhinos like this female are adapting well to their new home. The Indian state of Assam is home to the largest population of greater-one horned rhinos, with more than 90 percent in Kaziranga National Park. Translocation is an important conservation tool to protect the species and establish new populations.

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 are able to combine information and resources. This includes early warning systems, investing in effective legislation, and improving enforcement of policies and laws.

Increasing Populations

WWF continues to play an active role in establishing new rhino populations by moving them from one protected area to another, a process called translocation. The rhinos are moved to protected areas within the Eastern Himalayas, particularly in India’s Kaziranga and North Bank Landscapes. Our work helps establish new rhino populations in places where the species has disappeared. Several rhinos have already been moved from the Probitora and Kaziranga reserves to Manas National Park, a World Heritage Site, in order to establish a new rhino population. WWF is a key partner to the Indian state government of Assam on this mission.

Monitoring and Protection

WWF supports national park staff and rangers with equipment and training in order to protect rhinos from poaching and track other illegal activities such as logging. We also invest in improving rhino monitoring to collect data and measure progress towards 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 more than 5 percent.

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 which inundate the park.

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 menthe (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 twenty. 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. The number of rhinos poached in and around Chitwan in 2007 fell to only one. WWF expanded the operation to protect the diminishing rhino population in Bardia National Park, the second-largest stronghold for rhinos in Nepal. In 2011, Nepal celebrated a landmark year where zero rhinos were poached.

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