Indian Rhinoceros

(Rhinoceros unicornis)


Indian Rhinoceros IUCN VULNERABLE (VU)


Facts about this animal

The Indian Rhino has a brownish-grey up to 4 cm thick skin with folds, giving the animal an armour-plated look. The skin is well supplied with blood, which helps with thermoregulation, and it is very sensitive. Between the folds, around the stomach, the inner legs and the facial area, the skin is rather soft and thin. The tail lays well imbedded between the hind leg folds. Hair is found at the tip of the tail, around the ears and as eyelashes.

Indian rhinos have three hooves. Between them, a thick pad serves as cushion for the weight. At the hind part of the pad, about 5 cm high is an opening of a secret gland. While walking, this secret is spread on the ground or the grass and serves as "information" for the next rhino, walking on the same path.

Indian rhinos have one horn, which is typically 20-61 cm long and weights up to 3 kg. It has the same horn structure as the hooves of horses and re-grows if broken off. It is not used for fighting but for the search of food or roots.

Male Indian rhinos have up to 8 cm long lower incisor teeth, which are used in fighting and can inflict deep wounds. Females have shorter incisors. Indian rhinos are hind gut fermenters and have a large caecum (90 cm) as well as a large colon (6 to 7,6 m). They have a good sense of smelling and hear very well, but are rather short sighted.

Indian rhinos can run fast (up to 40 km/h) and are very agile. They are very good swimmers and can dive and feed under water. They seem to enjoy the wet element and, according to season, spend up to 60 % of their time wallowing. The access to water or mud is essential for thermoregulation and for the control of ectoparasites.

Indian rhinos are herbivores, eating about 1 % of their body weight daily and feeding on a wide variety of plants with a strong seasonal variation. Grass (80 %, mainly Saccharum spontaneum), fruit, leaves and branches of trees and shrubs, submerged and floating aquatic plants and agricultural crops. They have a prehensile upper lip which assists in grasping their food.

They can make numerous sounds, ranging from "snorting" to "whistling".

Indian rhinos live on average 30-40 years in the wild. The longevity record for zoo animals is also around 40 years. Indian rhinos are second in size only to the white rhino. They weigh between 1,800-2,700 kilos, stand 1.75-2 meters tall at the hind back, and are 3-3.8 metres long.

Indian rhinos are usually solitary, except for females with calves. Males have loosely defined territories, which are well defended by the dominant male but can overlap with other territories. The territories change according to food availability, i.e. according to the season. The females can move in and out of these territories as they like. Male Indian rhinos fight violently for these favourite places. It might happen that fights end with the death of one male (in general the badly wounded animal dies days after the fight due to the inflicted wounds). If food is abundant, it is not unusual to see several animals all grazing close together.


Wallows can be places were several individuals meet. After wallowing they separate again. Wallowing helps in thermoregulation, prevents overheating. The mud, covering the animal body serves also as skin care. In Indian rhinos 12 communication sounds are known, which are frequently used. The dung heaps serve as "communication" points. Several animals defecate at the same spot. Such a dung heap can become 5 m wide and 1 m high. After defecating Indian rhinos scratch their hind feet in the dung. By continuing to walk, they "transport" their own smell around the paths. Indian rhinos tend to use the same path, which are marked by the secret from the gland of the their feet (see above), urin and dung.


Females are sexually mature at 5-7 years of age; males at 8-10 years. Their gestation period is approximately 16 months (465 - 490 days' interval taken from the experience of 30 births at Basel Zoo), and they give birth every 3 years. The birth weight ranges from 60 to 77 kg (Basel Zoo ranges). A calf drinks on average 20-30 l milk per day and grows 1-2 kg daily. They start nibbling / feeding on roughage at the age of 3-5 months and continue to suckle up to the age of 20 months. In the wild youngsters are predated by tiger. Adults have no enemies other than humans.

Did you know?
That the rhino's horn is made of keratin, just like human fingernails or hair?


Name (Scientific) Rhinoceros unicornis
Name (English) Indian Rhinoceros
Name (French) Rhinocéros unicorne indien
Name (German) Panzernashorn
Name (Spanish) Rinoceronte unicornio índico
Local names Hindi: Gainda, Gargadan
Marathi: Genda
CITES Status Appendix I
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Darren Swim



Range Bhutan, India, Nepal
Habitat Floodplain grasslands and adjacent swamps and forests
Wild population Approx.: 2,575 (2007) (IUCN Red List 2011)
Zoo population 146 (77.69) registered by the International Studbook on 31.12.2004 (100 reported to ISIS, 2005)

In the Zoo

Indian Rhinoceros


How this animal should be transported

Rhinos should be allowed to get used to the transport crate, which may take from 1-6 weeks depending on the individual rhino’s temperament. Transport crates should allow the rhino to stand comfortably, provide drainage for urine, be adequately reinforced, have adequate ventilation holes or spacing, permit access for food and water for longer transports, and allow handlers to adequately monitor the rhino’s condition. Temperature in the crate should range from 12-20 °C. Handlers familiar with the individual rhino should travel with the animal to the receiving institution. They should regularly monitor the condition of the animal during transport.

For air transport, Container Note 71 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations, should be followed.


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Why do zoos keep this animal

The Greater one-horned rhinoceros: a fascinating species since almost 500 years

In May 1515, a ship arrived in the harbour of Lisbon, carrying the first living rhino to be seen in Europe since Roman times, presented by an Indian ruler to the Portuguese king. Although it only lived for a couple of years before drowning on the way to Rome, the animal achieved eternal fame through a woodcut make by Albrecht Dürer - showing a rhino with an armour-like skin, one horn on the nose, and a small twisted hornlet on the shoulder. This image was copied so often in books and art works in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, that everybody knew this to be the appearance of the rhinoceros. Four other rhinos came to Europe before 1750, the most famous of which was 'Clara' who toured most countries in western Europe with her Dutch owner between 1741 and 1758. She looked very much like the animal figured by Dürer, except that she did not have the small horn on the shoulders. The species was first named by Linnaeus in 1758 as Rhinoceros unicornis, the greater one-horned rhinoceros with a single horn.

Rhinoceroses and especially Greater one-horned rhinoceroses have a unique outer appearance and have fascinated human beings in Europe since almost 500 years. Their very special armour-like look gave even rise to the assumption that their skin might withstand the penetration of a bullet, hence the German name 'Panzernashorn', meaning armour-plated rhino.
Due to their interesting appearance they attract the attention of many zoo visitors. Often people stop by and think that this prehistoric animal just walked out of the Jurassic Park. In the wild this rhinoceros species is highly threatened, just like most other rhinoceros species. In former centuries, there were over 100.000 Greater one-horned rhinoceroses, now there remain only 2.400. Therefore, it is important that the Indian rhinos, kept in zoological gardens, serve as ambassadors for their wild colleagues to help raising awareness for their conservation needs.

Zoos keeping Indian rhinos contribute to the conservation of these rhinos threefold:


  1. Through breeding them in captivity, a viable population will remain and might serve as gene pole for the future.
  2. Through exhibiting this species in a zoo, the zoos raise awareness internationally for the conservational needs of the Greater one-horned rhinoceros in the wild.
  3. Through participation and funding internationally accepted and supported conservation field projects, who aim at the protection and conservation of the Indian rhinoceros, their habitat and at the education and cooperation of the people living with these animals, in the wild.