Bizarre upside-down rhinoceros research wins Ig Nobel Prize
A bizarre experiment that saw rhinoceroses being hung upside down to see how it affected the animals has been awarded an Ig Nobel prize.
Other entries into the spoof awards – which aren’t quite as as famous as the “real” Nobels – included teams that studied how to control cockroaches on submarines and the bacteria in chewing gum stuck to pavements.
The science humour magazine, Annals of Improbable Research, says its Ig Nobel awards are designed to first make people laugh, but then make them think, reports The BBC.
The awards ceremony, which is usually held at Harvard University, was instead held online this year because of Covid-19 restrictions.
The unconventional rhino study won the award this year for transportation research, after 12 rhinos in total were hung upside down for 10 minutes from a crane, in a bid to study how the animals were affected by this common practice.
It is used often in African conservation work when rhinos are moved between areas of fragmented habitat – but since now, no study has ever been carried out to check how the tranquillised animals’ heart and lung function coped with flying upside-down.
Wildlife veterinarian Robin Radcliffe from Cornell University, along with his colleagues, led the research in collaboration with the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism.
He told BBC News: “Namibia was the first country to take a step back and say, ‘hey, let’s study this and figure out, you know, is this a safe thing to do for rhinos?”
The results showed that the animals coped well, and there was no evidence to suggest that rhinos did better in this unusual position than simply lying chest down or on their side.
Robin continued: “I think the reason for that is, when a rhino is on its side, you have positional effects of blood flow. So in other words, the lower parts of the lung are getting lots of blood flow for gas exchange, but the upper part of the lung, just because of gravity, is not getting perfused well, so when a rhino is hanging upside down, it’s basically like it’s standing upside up; the lung is equally perfused.
“We’ve also seen that rhinos that are on their side too long, or on their sternum, especially – they get muscle damage, they get myopathy, because they’re so heavy. And there’s no pressure on their legs, other than the sense of the strap around their ankle.”
The winners got a trophy they had to assemble themselves from a PDF print-out and a cash prize in the form of a counterfeit 10 trillion dollar Zimbabwean banknote.
Asked what he’d do with his “cash” payout, Robin Radcliffe said: “We are always looking for grant funding.
“When I first heard about the Ig Nobel, I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. But I think that message that ‘it makes you laugh and then think’ – this is what it’s about for us.
“More and more people should understand what efforts are going on to try to help save these amazing animals that live here on Planet Earth with us.”