An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Perissodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Perissodactyla
        Family: Rhinocerotidae
          Genus: Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros unicornis

      Indian rhinoceros


Rhinoceros unicornis [Linnaeus, 1758].  
Citation: Syst. Nat., 10th ed., 1:56.
Type locality: India, Assam Terai.
Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 350 cm / 11.7 ft.
Shoulder Height: 180 cm / 6 ft.
Tail Length: 70 cm / 28 in.
Weight: 1.7-2.2 tons

The armour-like hide is thick and tough with many folds, and large, raised bumps on the neck, shoulders and flanks - a characteristic which differentiates it from the closely related Javan rhinoceros.  The other differential feature is the neck fold: in the great Indian rhinoceros it does not continue across the back.  The skin is usually brownish, with the interior of the folds slightly pink, but, due to mud wallowing, the coloration varies with the region's soil colour.  There is little hair on the hide except on the edges of the ears, the eyelashes, and the tuft on the tail.  The triangular upper lip is prehensile.  There is one horn on the nose, though it is usually short and dull, worn down by use.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 480 days.
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: At 18 months.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 4 years, males at 9 years.
Life span: 40 years.

Females generally give birth once every three years.

Ecology and Behavior

The great Indian rhinoceros is active throughout the day, although the middle of the day is spent wallowing and resting in the shade.  Wallowing takes place in lakes, rivers, ponds, and puddles, and is especially frequent in the hot seasons.  This activity is believed to be important with thermoregulation and the control of flies.  Drinking occurs almost every day, and mineral licks are visited regularly.  Population densities vary from 0.4-4.85 animals per square kilometer depending on the habitat.  Only the strongest males breed, and they have home ranges between 2-8 square kilometers in size.  These home ranges are not true territories, and overlap each other.  When disturbed, these rhinos generally flee, though they have been reported attacking, which they do with their head down.  In this fashion, protective mothers kill several people each year in India.  More than 10 distinct vocalizations have been recorded, including a honk, bleat, trumpet, and roar.  Smell is important in communication, with urine, feces, and glandular secretions carrying the messages.

Family group: Solitary
Diet: Grasses, aquatic plants, twigs, leaves.
Main Predators: Humans, tigers.


Grasslands and open forests in Nepal and northeastern India.

Range Map (Redrawn from Foose and van Strien, 1997)

Conservation Status

The great Indian rhinoceros is classified as endangered by the IUCN (1996).  The main source of danger for this (and all) rhinos is the Oriental belief that its horn, among other parts, has medicinal or magical properties.  After processing [being shaved or powdered] the horn may retail for over $30,000 (U.S.) per kilogram.


Rhis (Greek), genitive rhinos, the nose; keras (Greek) a horn of an animal.  Unus (Latin) one; cornu (Latin), genitive cornus, the horn of an animal: refering to the single 'horn' on the nose.

Literature Cited

Boitani, L., and S. Bartoli. 1982. Simon & Schuster's Guide to Mammals. New York: Fireside/Simon & Schuster, Inc. Entry 346.

Foose, T. J., and N. van Strien [editors].  1997.  Asian Rhinos - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan.  Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK: IUCN.  Available online at

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schenkel, R.  1990.  Asiatic Rhinoceroses.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker. New York: McGraw-Hill. Volume 4, pp. 635-642.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

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