The Indian rhino, otherwise known as the greater one-horned rhino, is easily identifiable by its single horn – which is only present in adult rhinos. Their horn can measure up to approximately 10 inches and weighs around 7 lbs. The greater one-horned rhino uses its horn to defend its territory, protect its calves from other rhinos and predators, and for foraging – such as digging for water and breaking branches. As a megaherbivore, these rhinos play an important role within their ecosystem and are relied on by other herbivores.
Where do Indian rhinos live?
India and Nepal
Forest, grassland and wetlands
Greater one-horned rhino populations were decimated in the early 19th century due to the popularity of sport hunting, as a result, it is estimated that in 1908 there were only 12 rhinos left in Kaziranga, India. The devastating impact of poaching had also pushed the greater one-horned rhino to the brink of extinction. Poachers target these rhinos for their horn, which is seen as a status symbol and used to make traditional ‘medicines’ in Asian markets. The rhino’s horn is made of keratin, the same protein that makes human hair and nails, and has no proven medicinal value. Today, they also face a serious threat to their existence from floods and encroachment of their habitats by humans. As land and resources become scarcer and rhinos and people vie for the same space, they both face the deadly threat of human-wildlife conflict.
The restoration of this species that was once on the brink of extinction has been the culmination of work of the government, civil society and communities that spans anti-poaching initiatives, community engagement, international policy and landscape conservation. Led by the Indian government and the state of Assam, working with the local community and civil society, rhino populations have grown from fewer than 100 to 3,600 in a span of 50 years.
In the 1990s the small rhino population of Manas National Park was wiped out during a decade of civil unrest. Rhinos were poached and deforestation devastated the land. From 2006, alongside our partners Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the Assam Forest Department, IFAW started work to repopulate the park with key wildlife, including rhinos, and expand protected land for these animals. Between 2006 and 2020 we moved 16 rescued rhino calves to Manas and the rhino population continues to grow. IFAW-WTI have built capacity of frontline forest staff in Manas though training and providing legal support to ensure convictions in rhino poaching cases. Many schools and communities have increased their vigilance in monitoring the park’s borders following IFAW-WTI’s community engagement.
During monsoon season, many rhinos and their calves are displaced and injured due to floods as they search for higher ground. In Kaziranga, India, IFAW works with WTI and the Assam Forest Department to run the IFAW-WTI Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation to rescue, rehabilitate and eventually release injured and orphaned rhino calves back into the wild.
IFAW also works at a policy and advocacy level to reduce demand for rhino horn product and ensure that markets remain closed, helping to reduce incidents of poaching.
How can you help protect Indian rhinos?
We can help to protect the greater one-horned rhino at home by talking with family and friends about the devastation caused by the rhino horn trade. It is through changing behaviors and attitudes towards owning and using rhino horn that we can make a difference to the Indian rhino population.
The trade in illegal wildlife items such as rhino horn has now been taken online. Wildlife cybercrime allows buyers and sellers to easily find each other. Help shut down this new trading platform by reporting suspected rhino items to the online platform as part of our cyber spotters program.