There are 5 living species of rhino–black and white in Africa and Sumatran, Javan, and Greater One-Horned in Asia. While PARCA’s early efforts are focused on work in Africa, it is important to highlight the plight of rhinos in Asia. Asian rhinos exist in 4 countries today – India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Indonesia. Estimates are that there are less than 100 Sumatran, about 63 Javan, and 3500 Greater One-Horned rhinos today. Sumatran and Javan are classified as critically endangered and the Greater One-Horned as vulnerable as conservation efforts have helped its population increase.
Asian rhino have more folds in their skin so appear more “armoured” than African. The Javan is the rarest large mammal species in the world. The Sumatran is the smallest rhino species and the only Asian rhino with 2 horns. In Asia, the Greater One-Horned (AKA Indian) is 2nd in size only to the Asian elephant and is the 2nd largest rhino species. Unlike the others, the Greater One-Horned fights with its incisors.
These rhino are also umbrella species. Protecting them also protects other animals and plants. Two examples of how this happens are by rhino dispersing seeds in their feces and maintaining closely cropped grasslands near rivers, which preserves feeding spots of other herbivores.
The main threats to these rhino are poaching and habitat loss. The Asian horn is believed more efficacious and so is more expensive. While the media makes much of the horn as an aphrodisiac and there is some evidence for this, that is actually a pretty limited use. The horn is used in traditional medicine (as is the skin, blood, and urine in some practices) for fever, headaches, gout, vomiting, and snakebites among other things. The other big use of the horn is for carvings – bowls, cups, figurines, belt buckles, jewelry, and other ornamentation. This use dates to the 7th century. The horn is also prized in Yemen where it is used for the handles of daggers called “jambiya.” These are a sign of manhood and are greatly valued.
All 5 species of rhino need our protection if they are to survive. Since we hear much more about the African rhino, hopefully this post helps highlight the plight of the Asian rhino.