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Why Rhinos Travel Upside-down

Most rhino translocations are carried out with trucks, but some remote locations can’t be reached by road. So ten years ago, conservationists began using helicopters, on an occasional basis, to move rhinos to and from inaccessible terrain. The rhino is either placed on its side on a stretcher, or hung upside down by its legs. Conservationists like the upside-down airlift because it’s faster, easier and less expensive than the stretcher option, but until now it hasn’t been clear how being flipped affects the rhinos. Seeking to find out, the Namibian government asked a research team at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine to look into the practice. The results, published in January, were surprising. Radcliffe says the upside-down position allows the spine to stretch which helps to open the airways. Additionally, the team found that when lying on their side, rhinos have a larger “dead space” — the amount of air in each breath that does not contribute oxygen to the body. The difference between the two postures was small, but because the strong anaesthetic used on the rhino causes hypoxemia — low oxygen levels in the blood — even a minor improvement makes a difference to the rhino’s welfare.