The majestic Great One Horned Rhino is a pride of Northeast India but its survival is at danger today. Human interference is one of the major factors responsible for putting the life of One Horned Rhinos at risk. Grazing of livestocks inside the protected areas makes the animals vulnerable to several fatal diseases. Unabated poaching activities mainly for it’s horn is pushing this animal to the brink of extinction. The horn is used as a medicine and an aphrodesiac. Medicinal purposes are as a pain reliever and a fever suppressant. For centuries, Asians have believed that powdered rhino horn could cure everything from fevers and nose bleeds to measles, diphtheria, and food poisoning. Many also believe powdered rhino horn helps retain the vigor of youth and contributes to sexual stamina. However, there are no scientific studies that show that rhino horn is affective for any of these purposes. In addition to the horn, rhino hide; blood, urine, and dung also have economic value.
Recent media reports from Kaziranga National Park on Great One Horned Rhino poaching are shocking and have put the government on tenterhooks. Given the present set of infrastructure that is available with the officials who stay on guard, they simply stand no match with sophisticated weapons the poachers carry. A drastic remedial step against the menace of poaching is something that has to be sorted out today or tomorrow may just be too late when we tell our next generation by just holding a picture on our hands that “look kids this is how a One Horned Rhinos used to look like!”
The state of Assam is well acknowledged for its high ethno-cultural diversity and biological wealth. The state is the highest producer of tea and crude oil through out the nation having lots oil field and other mineral resources which not only enhance the national economy but also meet the need and aspiration of future wealth. Unlike the other region of the nation, the state harbours huge natural resources and provide habitat for many endemic floras and faunas which signifies the importance of biological diversity management in the state in particular and the nation as a whole. Among the important faunal species, The Great One Horned Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis L.), found only in northern Pakistan, Bangladesh, Assam (India) and some parts of Nepal is one of the natural gift to the state and is a source of attraction for many local and foreign travelers. Rhinoceros the state animal of Assam, locally known as Garh is the pride of Kaziranga National Park with an area of 430 Km² located at Golaghat and Nagaon District of Assam
Taxonomy, Ecology and Behavior
Rhinoceros unicornis L. belongs to the Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata and Class Mammalia. 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 to cool off. 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. Smell is important in communication, with urine, feces, and glandular secretions carrying the messages. Rhinos have very poor eyesight, but their senses of smell and hearing are well developed. The Rhino’s horn is made of keratin, the same material as our hair and fingernails. Despite its thick skin, Rhinos can sun burn easily. Both male and female Rhinoceros unicornis have a single dark horn on the nose measuring up to 529 mm, which is made from agglutinated hairs.
The greater one-horned rhinoceros is commonly found only in South Asia and South East Asia. Historically, the rhinos were distributed in the floodplain and forest tracts in Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus river valley. Today, however, no more than 2,000 remain in the wild, with only two populations containing more than 100 rhinos: Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India (1,200) and Chitwan National Park (CNP), Nepal (600).
Habitat & Feeding
Alluvial plain is the primary and preferred habitat. Adjacent swamp and forest areas are also used. Rhinoceros are herbivorous in nature. They feed on grass, fruit, leaves, branches, aquatic plants, and cultivated crops. Tall reedy grasses are preferred to short species. When eating aquatic plants, Rhinoceros submerge their entire heads and tear the plant up by the roots. Foraging occurs at night, in early morning, or late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. Rhinoceros unicornis drinks daily and is fond of mineral licks.
Breeding occurs throughout the year. Only dominant bulls mate, and it is believed that they can assess the reproductive status of females through scent. Courtship may seem aggressive. Males chase females and sometimes fighting often ensues. After a gestation period of 480 days, one young is born weighing 70 kg. Weaning usually occurs in one year, although it may last up to 18 months. Females have young at intervals of about three years. One week before the next birth, the female will chase away her previous calf. Sexual maturity is reached at an age of 9 years for males, and 4 for females. The lifespan is about 40 years.
Conservation Status and Threats
The great Indian rhinoceros is listed as endangered (EN B1+2cde) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (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. The Indian rhinoceros was already considered a ‘vanishing race’ by the beginning of the 20th century, primarily due to the conversion of alluvial plain grassland to cultivated fields. Hunting, was also a factor in the decimation of the population. Despite protection measures, poaching remains a serious threat today due to the demand for rhino horn in Oriental medicine; in 1994 for example, a kilogram of rhino horn was worth approximately US$60,000.
(Courtesy: Arunachal Front, Volume one No. 178, 24 February 2008.)