Moving animals by helicopter is not new; but moving large animals like rhinos by helicopter and upside down is not something we see every day. However, although it may seem like a kind of torture for the animal, science says it can be beneficial.
Black rhinos are an endangered species from eastern and southern Africa; this is one of the reasons they are often moved around as part of conservation efforts. Experts distribute the animals throughout the habitats to keep the mixed gene pool and the rhinos safe from poachers.
Regarding transportation, although trucks are usually the first option, the air route through helicopters is the main option to transport to rural areas with difficult access far from human dwellings.
When this option is adopted the typical approach is to place the rhino on its side on a stretcher. However; the new study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases argues that hanging them upside down by the feet is healthier. Plus they are less stressful way to do it.
Large animals studies
To do this, researchers from the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine collaborated with the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism by studying how 12 black rhinos reacted to being anesthetized in two different positions; hanging from the feet of a crane to imitate the effects of air travel or lying on your side.
They were given tranquilizers with a potent opioid and held in one of the two positions for 10 minutes. The team then examined some of their vital signs to see how their bodies had reacted to the impact. All 12 rhinos were subjected to both treatments.
Although they feared that suspending rhinos upside down would likely worsen the dangerous effects of these opioids, they found that animals on the upside fared better than those lying down. As explained by Dr. Robin Radcliffe, researcher and lead author of the study:
Hanging the rhinos upside down actually improved ventilation (albeit to a small degree) over the rhinos lying on their side. While this was unexpected and the margins small; any incremental improvement in physiology helps improve black rhino safety during capture and anesthesia.
And, as experts explain, air travel can be a stressful experience for the rhinoceros. In both positions; all rhinos were found to be hypoxemic (lack of oxygen in the blood) and hypercapnic (too much carbon dioxide in the blood); indicating that the positions had affected their pulmonary system. But even knowing this; experts explain that transporting black rhinos by helicopter is a necessary part of the survival of their species.
“And now that we know it is safe to hang rhinos upside down for short periods of time, we would like to make sure that longer periods are also safe;” Radcliffe ditches.