Nepal’s Great One-horned Rhinoceros

The Great One-horned Rhinoceros, also known as the Asian One-Horned Rhinoceros, or Indian Rhinoceros, is found only in the forests and tall grasslands of the Himalayan foothills in Nepal, Bhutan and Assam. This huge prehistoric-looking animal is an excellent swimmer, can reach a speed of up to 40 km/h over a short distance and, although having relatively poor eyesight, has excellent senses of smell and hearing. Sadly, a number of factors have contributed to the Great One-horned Rhinoceros being declared endangered and included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Rhinos are grazers, with the major portion of their diet consisting of grasses, although they do at times eat leaves and branches of shrubs and trees, as well as fruit and aquatic plants. A recent meeting of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group in Nepal discussed the problem that the Great One-horned Rhino is facing with regard to grasslands being invaded by weeds and exotic plants that are not suitable as food. This forces the Rhinos to venture beyond their traditional feeding grounds in search of food, making them vulnerable to attacks by poachers who are after the Rhino’s much sought-after horn and certain other body parts. Rhino horns, which are pure keratin, the same substance as a human fingernail, are mistakenly believed to have aphrodisiac properties and can fetch a high price in China and other Southeast Asian countries.

The problem of weed and exotic plant invasion is causing great concern at the Chitwan National Park, home to more than 400 Rhinos, but it is a problem that is being addressed. Shyam Bajimaya, an expert with the National Parks Department of Nepal, acknowledges that these are new and unfamiliar invaders and it is a mystery as to where they came from. Research is being done on how to rid the areas of the invaders, without damaging other plant life and jeopardizing the health of resident wildlife.

In the early 1900s, mainly due to uncontrolled hunting, the Great One-horned Rhinoceros reached the point of being critically endangered. Following a ban on hunting these magnificent creatures, their numbers increased significantly, however, it still remains on the endangered list. Conservationists and animal lovers no doubt agree that it is reassuring to know that authorities in Nepal recognize the value of protecting the Great One-horned Rhinoceros, an animal with mitochondrial DNA which experts believe suggests that its ancestors roamed Eurasia around 20 million years ago.