Part 2: Behavioural Ecology of Indian Rhino

Updated: Oct 19

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Continuation of Part 1:

Young calves are not usually left unattended by the mother thereby protecting the calves from predators. During the lactating phase of the cow, it is difficult to witness it as in undergoes into a state of hiding, having a very short and secure range. This also may be due to the high requirement for high energy in its early stages. The dense vegetation in the case of Indian one-horned rhino may aid in their hiding. But the skill of running at the heels of the mother is not well developed in the calves due to hiding, which is not in the case of White Rhino.


Courtesy: Save the Rhino

The horn size doesn’t play an important role in dominance. It is observed that rhinos which lived in open habitats and ones that lived in dense vegetations usually had marked difference in horn size. The horns of the Woolly rhinoceros which lived in the open tundra had two longhorns. On the other hand, its close relative the Sumatran rhino that lives in the forests has much shorter horns.

The principal difference in olfactory communication between Rhinoceros and the other rhinos is that the others do not have pedal glands which leave a marked smell on the furrows of earth turned up by foot-fragging as well as during normal walking.

Another interesting fact is that Sumatran rhinos’ twists saplings at points along the path as a visual cue for other rhinos to follow.

Indian Rhinos often wallow in pools that smelt string of urine. This helps them to mark and track their path when moving across the forest. The extent of the ranges of the rhinos is determined by the food available. If the seasonal food is distributed over a large area then the home rages of the rhinos also tend to be large. Due to increasingly changing habitat the Indian one-horned rhinos have adapted to large ranges which would provide them with higher reproductive successes due to increased availability of viable mates. However, due to this expansion of habitat, the number of Human-wildlife clashes have also increased. This also increases their chances of getting more hand on rich food sources.

It is a common observation for territorial ungulates to move alone and not form groups as they are equipped with a potentially dangerous weapon. Although the Indian one-horned rhino falls into this category, it is observed that the mating system appears to be a type of dominance hierarchy partially determined by location. Breeding white rhinos usually maintain an area where it competes with other rhinos for mating, however, this wouldn’t be plausible in the case of Indian one-horned rhino due to the changing seasonality and the distribution of resources. The ranges of two neighboring strong males result in sometimes one intruding the territory of others. However, in this case, they rarely fought, but when a novel strong male intruded the territory it is often attacked and killed. Weak and subordinate male intrusion is usually tolerated by the strong males as excluding will require a lot of energy and time which is costly. It was also not excluded perhaps as their mating chances were very small. Furthermore, they can increase the chances of the strong males’ mating likelihoods by bringing to notice of the estrous female to the stronger male instead of the weaker male. 



Alluvial plain grasslands and woodlands are the most preferred habitats of the one-horned rhino. However, due to rising demands for rice cultivation for which this kind of soil is optimum is being highly used and taken into use for cultivation of rice. This is causing a diminution in the habitats of the rhinos and leading to the rhinos living in close quarters with human settlements. This makes the rhinos vulnerable to poaching, severe flooding in case they are only limited to the small protected areas and at risk of contracting fatal epidemic diseases which have the potential of decimating the already small one-horned rhino population. Also, due to the chaining course of the rivers, there is a possibility of a succession of vegetation after the river changes course. This will ultimately lead to the formation of a climax community which might have vegetation which is not desirable for the one-horned rhino. Due to extreme levels of deforestation in the Himalayas, the annual flood has been increasing in levels in an exponential way which could ultimately destroy the rhino’s habitats. Human population pressure on the surrounding land is such that alternative refuges are scarce. Increasing the area of the protected areas with proper planning is the only way to ensure the survivors of the vulnerable one-horned rhino. Proper scientific planning and enforcement of strict laws for the protection of this megaherbivore has resulted in changing its status from endangered to vulnerable, however, threats remain to loom and need to be kept a check-off to prevent the loss of this keystone species.


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REFERENCE:

A. Laurie, "Behavioural ecology of the Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis)", Journal of Zoology, vol. 196, no. 3, pp. 307-341, 1981. Available: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.1982.tb03506.x [Accessed 3 October 2020].

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