Indian Rhinoceros: Habitat and Characteristics

When the heat is strenuous, the Indian rhinoceros jump into the water or wallows in it to cool off. Plus, this is also a great way to keep flies away.
Indian Rhinoceros: Habitat and Characteristics

Last update: 26 August, 2021

The Indian rhinoceros is one of the most peculiar mammals that exist, as its “armor” and its unique horn have led it to be immortalized in the media and art. In addition, its population has been fighting an intense battle against extinction, as several different problems have caused it to be on the verge of extinction.

Its scientific name is Rhinoceros unicornis and it’s one of the 5 types of rhinos that exist in the world. Read on and learn more about this gigantic specimen.

Where does the Indian rhinoceros live?

This rhinoceros used to be well distributed near the alluvial plains of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Sind rivers, between the Indoburmesa border and Pakistan. However, during the 1960s, its population decline caused it to be confined to the Chitwan Valley region. At present, these mammals are restricted to protection zones in India and Nepal.

As mentioned, the natural habitat of this species is mainly the alluvial plains. However, it can also live in swamps and some forests. In general, an excellent home for this mammal will be one with abundant plants and grass, with a body of water nearby.

Physical characteristics of the Indian rhinoceros

Indian rhinoceros are extremely large, imposing animals, as they can reach sizes of 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) in length and 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) in height. Likewise, its weight isn’t far behind, reaching more than 2 tons. In addition, it’s capable of maintaining speeds of up to 56 kilometers per hour (35 mph), while in the water it’s also an excellent swimmer.

The signature characteristic of this mammal is the conical horn that protrudes directly from its nose, which can be more than 50 centimeters (20 inches) long. In addition, its skin has several folds along the body, which give it the appearance of wearing armor, almost like that of a samurai.

The body of this giant has brown or bright gray tones, which most of the time is darkened by the land of its habitat. Moreover, the individuals of the species are very similar between sexes, however, an article in the scientific journal Journal of Mammalogy mentions that they do have certain sexual dimorphism. It appears that the incisors and some muscles are better developed in males.

An Indian rhino.

The rhinoceros and the unicorn

In ancient times, the unicorn was depicted as a horse, the forehead of which had an elongated, spiral horn. Although the appearance of the rhinoceros and this mythical animal aren’t very similar, some think that it could have served as an inspiration in the unicorn’s creation.

The appearance of beings with strange characteristics in times past was fostered by the lack of images to support what was seen. In fact, quite often, the only source of information were the stories told by some travelers, which were modified over time. Among them was one that depicted a huge animal, with armored skin and a horn for a nose.

As you can imagine, this one was referring specifically to the Indian rhinoceros. However, as people knew so little about them, it was thought that they actually did have armor. This motivated the artist Albrecht Dürer to make an engraving of this species for the first time without ever having seen it. He exaggerated its features and gave it a spiral horn, as well as a metallic look.

This engraving became one of the most popular pieces in Europe in the year 1515. Now, despite the fact that the myth of the unicorn appeared many years before, it’s believed that the existence of these rhinos was already known. In addition to this, some authors began to call these animals “monoceros”, referring to the mythical animal.


These huge mammals usually have a solitary behavior, except when the females raise their children. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re conflictive. On the contrary, they can coexist well with other specimens, even when they’re eating. In addition, they aren’t very territorial. They choose a specific place to live, but they don’t defend it as much as might be expected.

Although they aren’t aggressive individuals, on some occasions they do fight each other, running and colliding with their opponent or exchanging blows with their horn. Fights can be considered as a common cause of death, but they only occur when the specimens are under stress, or if the population is too high.


Rhinos are herbivores, which is why they feed on grasses, fruits, leaves, and aquatic plants. They also use both nights and mornings to search for food, because they try to avoid the mid-day heat at all costs. In addition, they drink water constantly and are fond of licking stones with minerals.

Reproduction of the Indian rhinoceros

These mammals can reproduce throughout the year, but only dominant males have the right to mate. Courtship may seem aggressive, as the expectant parents ram each other as if it were a fight, but never seriously injure themselves. What’s more, when they finish, the female becomes submissive and agrees to be mounted.

The copulation of this species consists of the male mounting the female for a period of between 20 and 75 minutes. In fact, after this, they both separate and don’t interact with each other again. From here, the new mother will face the process alone, starting with a gestation period of 480 days.

At the time of birth, the calf is about 120 centimeters (nearly 4 feet) long and weighs between 60 and 70 kilos (132 to 154 pounds). In addition to this, a phenomenon called imprinting also occurs, whereby the mother and the calf become very close, reinforcing the bond between the two. Finally, the child’s independence will occur after between 1 and 2 years, depending on whether the mother becomes pregnant again or not.

Conservation status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies this animal as a vulnerable species. Contrary to expectations, conservation efforts have been bearing fruit, as local governments in India and Nepal are quite strict. Thanks to this, the Indian rhinoceros population recovered from the brink of extinction in just a few years.

Unfortunately, we can’t say that they’re out of danger, as their population is frequently hunted for their horns. In popular culture, the antlers of this mammal serve to cure various diseases, as well as, apparently, being a powerful aphrodisiac. Needless to say, these are all just baseless beliefs.

In addition to this, their habitat has been threatened by droughts and agriculture, meaning that not everything is looking good for their future. However, it’s important to highlight the actions that were taken for their protection, as the local governments spared no expense and obtained good results. In this way, we have seen that saving endangered species is possible. It just often lacks human disposition.

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