Mythical Unicorn !
The biblical unicorn may have been a wild ox, but the great Indian rhinoceros is similar to a unicorn – it has a single horn, usually about 53 cm long. The Rhino’s horn is not a true horn, but consists of compressed hair, and the animal prefers to defend itself with its canine teeth with which it can make horrible gashes. Rhinos became extinct in America long ago, and are becoming much scarcer in other parts of the world, but there are still five species remaining: two in Africa and three in Asia. They are the largest land mammals after the elephant and weigh from 1,800 to 3,600 kg.
The Indian rhinoceros lives primarily in north-eastern part of India particularly in Assam and Nepal. Kaziranga National Park in Assam is a dedicated sanctuary to preserve Indian rhinos. These massive beasts have some noticeable physical differences from their African counterparts. Their segmented hide serves as a formidable coat of natural body armour. Flexible skin between the thicker hide plates allow them to shift as the rhinoceros moves.
As their Latin name rhinoceros unicornis suggests, Indian rhinos have only one horn. Like other rhinos, these animals have sharp hearing power and a keen sense of smell. They may find one another by following the trail of scent, which each enormous animal leaves behind it on the landscape.
An Indian rhino can move very quickly when aroused. Their charges have been clocked at 48 kilometers an hour. Despite their bulk, they are nimble and can jump or change direction quickly.
The Indian rhino is a grazer which is established by their travels, tunnel-like paths through their tall-grass habitat. They grasps tall grasses with their prehensile (gripping) lip. In addition to grass, rhinos eat fruits, leaves, and sometimes farm crops. They are often found around water sources and sometimes consume aquatic plants.
The Indian rhinos have well-developed incisor teeth and two long canine teeth in their lower jaw. They are studded with knob-like tubercles and are unique in having huge folds of skin at their joints and great rolls at the neck. These animals forage in the cooler temps of morning and afternoon to avoid exerting themselves in the debilitating midday heat. When the sun is high, they often wallow or submerge themselves in water. Threatened by continued loss of habitat and poaching, conservation efforts are essential to ensure this creatures’ survival.
Conservation objectives include:
the maintenance of a wild population of at least 2,000 rhinos in six major sanctuaries;
translocation of animals to create new sanctuaries and populations;
continued anti-poaching efforts;
maintenance of a captive population capable of long-term viability to guard against any unforeseen extinction of the wild population; and reduction in the demand for rhino product.
The prominent horn for which these rhinos are so well known has also been the reason for their downfall. Many animals have been killed for this hard, hair-like growth, which is revered for medicinal use in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The horn is also valued in North Africa and the Middle East as an ornamental dagger handle.
In the present scenario it is rarity hard to find them roaming in their natural habitat, as there are only about 2,000 Indian rhinos left in the wild.
By Sachin Kaushik