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Meet the Species: Greater One-Horned (Indian) Rhino

By Rhishja Larson
May 22, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Animal Sightings, Conservation, Education, Endangered Species

The greater one-horned rhino (Indian or Nepalese rhino), is the most numerous of the three Asian rhino species. These rhinos number just 2,850 and are surviving in only two countries.

Photo courtesy of Suman Bhattarai

Greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) were once widespread throughout the northern floodplains and nearby foothills of the Indian sub-continent between the Indo-Myanmar border in the east, and Sindh River basin, Pakistan in the west. It is also suggested that the species could once be found in southern China, Myanmar, and Indochina.

Unfortunately, this Asian rhino species was decimated after decades of demand for its single horn, a key ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine. They were also hunted relentlessly by royals and “big game” collectors.

By the early part of the 20th century, fewer than 200 greater one-horned rhinos remained on the planet.

A conservation success story

Despite teetering at the brink of extinction, strict protection efforts by Indian and Nepalese wildlife authorities have helped make the greater one-horned rhino a conservation success story. This species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM.

Today, the world’s 2,850 greater one-horned rhinos can be found in only in a few protected areas in northeastern India and lowland Nepal.

Kaziranga National Park in the Indian state of Assam boasts 2,048 of the world’s greater one-horned rhinos, making it the world’s largest concentration of this species.

Although political instability caused Nepal’s rhino population to decrease to just 372 rhinos in 2005, greater one-horned rhino numbers have slowly been rising since the end of Nepal’s civil war that claimed the lives of 16,000 people.

The country is now home to approximately 435 greater one-horned rhinos, who live in the protected areas of Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park, and Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve.

Nepal even enjoyed a rhino “baby boom” in 2010, and welcomed at least ten rhino calves into its national parks.

Two baby rhinos were born in Bardia National Park, while Chitwan National Park welcomed eight new rhinos into the world.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The greater one-horned rhino has one horn comprised of compressed keratin – basically hair and fingernail material. The horn is typically 8″ – 24″ in length.

Greater one-horned rhinos are easily identified by the single horn, folds of armor, and semi-prehensile upper lip. The semi-prehensile lip enables this rhino species to feed on a very wide variety of grasses, leaves, branches, aquatic plants, and fruit. Greater one-horned rhinos are hairless except for eyelashes, ear fringes, and tail tips.

Photo courtesy of Suman Bhattarai

Greater one-horned rhinos are the most aquatic of the five rhino species. They are strong swimmers and may spend 60% of their day in the water. In addition, they can dive and feed under water, and it is not uncommon to see just their snouts, eyes, and ears above the water.

Like all rhinos, the greater one-horned rhinos is an odd-toed ungulate, having three toes – each with a sturdy hoof-like nail. Also in common with other rhinos is a superb sense of hearing, keen sense of smell – but relatively poor eyesight.

Size of the Greater One-Horned Rhino

The greater one-horned rhino, along with the roughly equal-sized white rhino, is the largest species of land mammal after the elephant.

The greater one-horned rhino’s weight ranges from 4,000 – 6,000 pounds, and stands from 5.75 – 6.5 feet high at the shoulder. End-to-end, this species can be 10 – 12.5 feet in length.


The greater one-horned rhino is both fast and agile, running up to 25 mph for short distances and able to make sharp turns when necessary.

Greater one-horned rhinos are designed for life near water, such as subtropical areas near floodplains and rivers, as they may spend more than half of their day in the water.

Photo courtesy of Shankar Chaudhary

Life span

Greater one-horned rhinos can live 30 – 45 years in the wild, and the captive life span record is 47 years.

Scientific Name and Origin

There are no subspecies of the greater one-horned rhino.

  • Rhinoceros unicornis
  • Rhinoceros: from the Greek rhino, meaning “nose” and ceros, meaning “horn”
  • unicornis: from the Latin uni, meaning “one” and cornis, meaning “horn”

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