Rhinoceros unicornis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Perissodactyla Rhinocerotidae

Scientific Name: Rhinoceros unicornis
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Common Name(s):
English Indian Rhinoceros, Greater One-horned Rhino, Great Indian Rhinoceros
French Rhinocéros unicorne de l'Inde
Spanish Rinoceronte Unicornio Índico

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable B1ab(iii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Talukdar, B.K., Emslie, R., Bist, S.S., Choudhury, A., Ellis, S., Bonal, B.S., Malakar, M.C., Talukdar, B.N. & Barua, M.
Reviewer(s): Talukdar, B.K. & van Strien, N.J. (Asian Rhino Red List Authority)
The Greater One-horned Rhinoceros populations are increasing overall due to strict protection, especially in India. However, some populations are decreasing, especially in Nepal and parts of northeastern India. The species is currently confined to fewer than ten sites, with a total extent of occurrence of less than 20,000 km². There is a continuing decline in the quality of habitat, projected to continue into the future, which, if not addressed, will affect the long-term survival of some of the smaller populations, and could jeopardize the further recovery of the species. Its populations are also severely fragmented, and with over 70% of the population in Kaziranga National Park, a catastrophic event there could have a devastating impact on the status of the species.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Historically, the Indian rhinoceros once existed across the entire northern part of the Indian subcontinent, along the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra River basins, from Pakistan to the Indian-Burmese border, including parts of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan (Foose and van Strien 1997). It may also have existed in Myanmar, southern China, and Indochina, though this is uncertain. The species was common in northwestern India and Pakistan until around 1600, but disappeared from this region shortly after this time (Rookmaker, 1984). The species declined sharply in the rest of its range from 1600-1900, until the species was on the brink of extinction at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Currently, the Indian rhinoceros exists in a few small subpopulations in the Nepal and India (West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam) (Foose and van Strien 1997; Grubb, 2005), with an unsuccessful reintroduction of a pair in 1983 into Pakistan.
Countries occurrence:
India; Nepal
Regionally extinct:
Bangladesh; Bhutan
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The total population estimate in May 2007 was estimated to be 2,575 individuals, with estimates of a total of 378 in Nepal and 2,200 in India (Asian Rhino Specialist Group 2007). The Indian Rhino, with strict protection from Indian and Nepalese wildlife authorities, has recovered from a total population of under 200 in the early 1900s. Although some populations have declined in recent years, overall there has been a population increase for almost 100 years which still continues.

The species exists in several protected areas in India, with the following population estimates in May 2007 (Asian Rhino Specialist Group 2007): Dudhwa National Park (21), Manas National Park (3), Karteniaghat (2), Kaziranga National Park (1,855 in 2006; 1,551 in 1999), Orang (68 in 2006; 46 in 1999), Pabitora (81 in 2006; 74 in 1999, 79 in 2004), Jaldapara (108 in 2006; 96 in 2004; 84 in 2002), Gorumara (27 in 2006; 25 in 2004; 22 in 2002). Estimates given in Foose et al. (1997) were as follows: Dudhwa National Park (11), Manas National Park (60), Karteniaghat (4), Kaziranga (1164 +/- 134), Orang (over 90), Pabitora (80 individuals over 38.8 km²) (Choudhury, 2005), Jaldapara (over 33), Gorumara (13), and a few remaining small populations in Assam. Kaziranga National Park, which was established as a reserve for the last 10-20 Indian rhinos in Assam in 1905, is home to over 70% of the global population of this species. Poaching rendered the species extinct in Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary by the mid-1990s (Foose et al., 1997), and there has also been a severe decline in Manas National Park due to poaching related to civil unrest. The overall population tendency is to increase (especially in Kaziranga, Pabitora, Dudhwa, Jaldapara and Gorumura), with decreases in Manas, Orang (now increasing again) and Laokhowa. The population in Karteniaghat is best described as transient (S.S. Bist pers. comm.).

In the late 1960s, an estimated 65 Indian rhinos survived in Nepal, but due to increased conservation efforts, the total population was up to 612 in 2000. A total of at least 91 animals were poached in 2000-2003 (Martin, 2004), and since 2000, numbers have declined. In Royal Chitwan National Park, the number of individuals has declined from 544 individuals in 2000, to 372 individuals in 2005 (Asian Rhino Specialist Group 2007), the decrease being due to increased poaching following political instability in Nepal (Rothley et al., 2004; Khan et al., 2005), and habitat changes. In Royal Bardia National Park (where rhinos were re-introduced) there were approximately 40 individuals in 1997 (Foose et al., 1997) and 35 animals in 2007 (Asian Rhino Specialist Group 2007). In Royal Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (where the species was also re-introduced), the population is only six individuals (Martin, 2004; Asian Rhino Specialist Group 2007).

A pair of rhinos was introduced into Lal Sohanra National Park in 1983, but have not bred.
Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:2575-2575
Population severely fragmented:Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The species inhabits the riverine grasslands of the Terai and Brahmaputra Basins (Foose and van Strein 1997). The species prefers these alluvial plain grasslands, but was known to occur in adjacent swamps and forests. The populations are currently restricted to habitats surrounded by human-dominated landscapes, so that the species often occurs in adjacent cultivated areas, pastures, and secondary forests. The diet includes mainly grasses, but also some fruit, leaves, shrub and tree branches, and cultivated crops (Nowak, 1999). The species also utilizes mineral licks regularly. Males are solitary, with unstructured, overlapping territories. The females solitary unless occurring with young.

Its life history characteristics are not well known, with longevity estimated at about 30-45 years, gestation length of approximately 16 months (as with other rhino species), and age at sexual maturity estimated at 5-7 years for females and 10 years for males (Nowak, 1999; IRF website, 2006).
Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is harvested illegally for its horn and other products used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
There may be some parts in trade originating from animals that died in zoos (Strien in litt.).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This species declined to near extinction in the early 1900s, primarily due to widespread conversion of alluvial plains grasslands to agricultural development, which led to human-rhino conflicts and easier accessibility for hunters. Sport hunting became common in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A reversal of government policies shortly thereafter protected many of the remaining populations. However, poaching, mainly for the use of the horn in Traditional Chinese Medicine has remained a constant and the success is precarious without continued and increased support for conservation efforts in India and Nepal. Poaching has lead to decreases in several important populations, especially those in Chitwan, Manas, Laokhowa and the Babai Valley area of Bardia.

However, not all recent population decreases can be linked to poaching. There have been serious declines in quality of habitat in some areas. This is due to: 1) severe invasion by alien plants into grasslands affecting some populations; 2) demonstrated reductions in the extent of grasslands and wetland habitats due to woodland encroachment and silting up of beels; and 3) grazing by domestic livestock. In Chitwan (the second largest population) there is clear evidence that poaching on its own does not account for the observed level of population decline (R.H. Emslie pers. comm.), and there are trends in a number of reproductive indicators (i.e., decline in the percentage of adult females calving and in the percentage of the population that is calves) that are strongly indicative of negative changes in habitat quality. In Chitwan there has been severe infestation of some riverine and grassland areas by the climbing Mikania micrantha (which covers over indigenous vegetation), and invasion of Eupatorium in other areas. There is also heavy livestock grazing pressure and disturbance in buffer zone areas as well as some invasion of grasslands by Acacia catechu and Dalbergia sissou. It has been reported that grassland area in Chitwan has been reduced from 20% to 4.7% of the national park (R.H. Emslie pers. comm.).

In India, there is not yet any evidence that invasion by alien plants has caused any population decreases. However, in Orang National Park, there have been marked habitat changes due to grazing, human encroachment and silting up. In particular, short grass areas have declined by 75% due to silting up and draining of beels (B.N. Talukdar pers. comm.). Mimosa is also an alien invader in this area. In the Karnali floodplain area of Bardia there is also some invasion of habitat by the alien Lantana camara.

In Pabitora there has been an invasion of Ipomoea "weeds" into grassland areas (S. Dutta pers. comm.). There also has been an invasion of woodland into grassland and siltation and drying up of some water bodies. There also has been some human encroachment and very heavy livestock grazing. With increasing human densities this pressure is unlikely to get any less (S. Dutta pers. comm.). Analysis of satellite imagery has shown that there has a substantial increase in woodland (34.51%) in Pabitora since 1977 accompanied by decline in alluvial grassland (68%). This change of habitat is mostly because of natural succession process, livestock grazing from the nearby villages as well as improper management of the grassland habitat (Sarma et al. in press).

The West Bengal populations (Jaldapara and Gorumara) are affected by high levels of grazing from fringe villages, and there have been weed and climber infestations by Mikania cordata, M. scandens, Lantana camara and Leea spp.

The species is inherently at risk because over 70% of its population occurs at a single site, Kaziranga National Park. This area, is subject to poaching and tensions with the surrounding high human population due to human-wildlife conflicts (including conflicts with rhinos). The level of poaching in Kaziranga has generally not been at a level to prevent the ongoing increase in the population, but constant vigilance is required. Clearly, any catastrophic event in Kaziranga (such as disease, civil disorder, poaching, habitat loss, etc) would have a devastating impact on the status of this species.

Sex-ratio among the adult rhinos in Gorumara National Park is almost 1:1. As a result, intra-specific fights among the bulls are very common and these animals have a tendency to stray out of the National Park very often, leading to human-wildlife conflicts (S.S. Bist pers. comm.).

There are suggestions that the small population of rhinos in Jaldapara and Gorumara may be prone to in-breeding depression (S.S. Bist pers. comm.).

There have been proposals to dam the Bramaphutra River in Arunachal Pradesh, and should this happen in future this could very negatively affect the habitat quality and rhino carrying capacity of major parks like Kaziranga in future (by preventing or reducing the pulse of nutrients brought in by regular large floods). In Jaldapara Sanctuary, the River Torsa no longer overflows as a result of massive flood-control structures. As a result the water table in the sanctuary is receding and the natural water-bodies and wallow-pools used by rhinos are slowly drying up (S.S. Bist pers. comm.).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species has been included on CITES Appendix I since 1975. The Indian and Nepalese governments have taken major steps towards Indian Rhinoceros conservation, especially with the help of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other non-governmental organizations.

Indian Rhino populations occur almost exclusively within and around protected areas. In India, the species occurs in Kaziranga National Park (World Heritage Site), Manas National Park (World Heritage Site in danger), Dudhwa National Park (re-introduced population), Karteniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, Orang National Park, Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, and Gorumara National Park. In Nepal, the species occurs in Royal Chitwan National Park, Royal Bardia National Park (re-introduced population), and Royal Suklaphanta Wildife Reserve (a very small re-introduced population). Strict anti-poaching measures are needed to maintain all of these populations. It is also important to reduce human-wildlife conflicts around these areas, and this might involve fencing. Many of the areas also require targeted programmes to control invasive plants, to prevent the spread of woodland, to safeguard wetlands through appropriate water management, and to limit the extent of grazing by domestic livestock. In Pabitora, specific recommendations have been made to increase the quality of feeding habitat of rhino within the sanctuary through meticulous manipulation and checking livestock grazing (Sarma et al., in press). Water holding mechanisms within the sanctuary during winter are crucial in terms of keeping moist grassland available in winter seasons, thereby reducing the number of rhinos straying out of the sanctuary and thus exposing themselves to poaching (Sarma et al., in press).

The area of Kaziranga National Park has officially been extended, although animals had access to this area previously as the original park area was not fenced. In West Bengal (Jaldapara and Gorumara), there is a programme of habitat improvement in old teak areas, weed control is being carried out in 50-60 ha annually.

With the support of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group, an Indian Rhino Vision 2020 and a Nepal Rhino Action Plan have been developed. These cover a number of important and specific conservation measures, including: translocating rhinos to bolster struggling populations (e.g., Manas National Park) and to start new populations; improving security around rhino populations and reducing poaching; assessing habitat status and management needs; expanding available habitat through active management; improving protected area infrastructure; training staff in specific rhino conservation techniques; reducing human-wildlife conflicts; involving local people in rhino conservation; and implementing education and awareness programmes. Overall, there is a need for further reintroductions, thereby reducing the concentration of over 70% of the individuals in one large population.

Citation: Talukdar, B.K., Emslie, R., Bist, S.S., Choudhury, A., Ellis, S., Bonal, B.S., Malakar, M.C., Talukdar, B.N. & Barua, M. 2008. Rhinoceros unicornis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T19496A8928657. . Downloaded on 20 January 2017.
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