Upside-down rhino experiment wins Ig Nobel Prize

A team of researchers who hung rhinoceroses upside-down and high in the air as part of an experiment to determine the best way to transport the animals on Thursday won an Ig Nobel Prize for their research.

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The prize, which honors “achievements that make people laugh, then think,” has been running since 1991. Organized by the Annals of Improbable Research and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, the accolade is not connected with the famed Nobel Prize, according to CNN.

“We found that suspending rhinos by their feet is safer than we thought,” Robin Radcliffe, a senior lecturer in wildlife and conservation medicine at Cornell University, told the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine earlier this year.

Radcliffe led the study, in which researchers used aerial darts to sedate 12 rhinoceroses in Namibia before hanging them by their feet with a crane, to mimic the effects of transportation by air, or laid them on their sides, as they would be while being transported on a sledge. Researchers measured the animals’ breathing and circulation in both positions and compared them.

Ultimately, they found that hanging a rhinoceros upside-down slightly improved ventilation.

“We were anticipating that the rhinos would fare worse hanging upside down,” Radcliffe told CNN in March.

The practice of moving rhinos while suspended by their feet has been increasingly used as part of African conservation efforts, BBC News reported. However, the news network reported that it wasn’t until Radcliffe and his team began investigating that scientists knew the position was preferred.

“This has really changed rhino translocation, and even more so elephant translocation. Picking these big animals up by their feet - it’s now accepted,” Pete Morkel, a wildlife doctor and member of the research team, told BBC News. “The next thing we’ve got to do is some research on other species like buffalo, hippo, and maybe even giraffe.”

The award-winning study, which involved researchers from the U.S., Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Brazil and the U.K., was published in March in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

Black rhinos were once prevalent across most of Africa, but their populations declined dramatically as European hunters and settlers pursued the animals, according to Save the Rhino. Transporting the animals to different areas is key to conservation efforts as it ensures the gene pool stays diverse and helps to protect rhinos from poachers. Jacques Flamand, leader of the World Wildlife Fund’s Black Rhino Range Expansion project, told CNN that such moves are also important because if there are too many rhinos in one area, their population decreases.

The number of rhinos in the wild dropped to fewer than 2,500 in 1995, but conservation efforts have since helped to double that population to as many as 5,600 today, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Other Ig Nobel Prize winners awarded Thursday include Sweden’s Susanne Schotz, who was honored for research analyzing modes of cat-human communication, and American researchers Ethan Beseris, Steven Naleway and David Carrier, who investigated the hypothesis that humans evolved beards to protect themselves from punches to the face.