Hanging Rhinos Upside Down May Be Best Way to Transport Them

Wildlife conservationists' aim is to transport the endangered species as safely as possible.
Fabienne Lang

Conservationists at Cornell University in the U.S. analyzed the effects of airlifting rhinos upside down by their feet, and figured out it was safer than was previously thought. 

Wildlife conservationists are known for thinking outside the box when it comes to transporting and saving the lives of large endangered species, and this is a perfect example of that. 

Why this upside-down method is better than others

It's not every day you see a black rhinoceros hanging suspended upside down as it's lifted into the air. But this is what researchers at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine did in Namibia, all in the name of finding ways to save the endangered species. 

Rhinos are targets of poaching and have lowering gene pools. So to keep them safe and help distribute them more broadly across habitats, conservationists and wildlife experts sometimes have to transport them to remote areas. Without roads in many of these parts, the only option is to tranquilize the animals and airlift them with helicopters. 

This method has, in fact, been used for a decade, but no proper documentation of how it affects the rhinos was carried out, until now. 

The main concern the Cornell researchers focused on was the opioids' effects on the animals, as well as the positioning that may hinder breathing. 

The team compared the effects on 12 rhinos. One grouping was sedated and transported on their sides — as they would be positioned directly after being darted with the opioids — , and the other rhinos were suspended upside down by their feet — as they would be when being airlifted. Neither group was transported, merely shifted on site. 

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The team compared the breathing and circulation of all rhinos and discovered that the hanging rhinos actually performed slightly better than the lying down ones. 

"While this was unexpected, and the margins small, any incremental improvement in physiology helps to enhance the safety of black rhinoceros during capture and anesthesia," said Dr. Robin Radcliffe, lead author of the study. 

However, Dr. Radcliffe cautioned that more information needs to be gathered, and tests on longer transportation times need to be carried out. 

The team's findings were published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

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