Namibia: Local Study On Upside-Down Rhino Transport Wins IG Nobel Prize

14 September 2021

A STUDY on the upside-down, airborne transportation of rhinoceroses conducted in Namibia is among the top winners of this year's Ig Nobel Prize awards.

The Ig Nobel Prize is a satirical prize awarded annually since 1991 to celebrate 10 unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research, with the aim to "honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think".

It is put together by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine.

The upside-down rhino transport study, which won an award for transportation research, was conducted by wildlife veterinarian Robin Radcliffe from Cornell University.

According to a BBC report, Radcliffe and his colleagues wanted to determine if the health of the animals are compromised when slung by their legs beneath a helicopter.

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?"

His team conducted the research in collaboration with Namibia's Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism.

The project saw 12 tranquilised black rhinos suspended by their feet from a crane and their physical responses were then measured.

But the gag: No-one had done the basic investigation to check that the tranquillised animals' heart and lung function coped with upside-down flying, said Radcliffe.

Nonetheless, the end result was successful as the animals seemed to cope very well.

These results provided evidence that the rhinos did better in this unusual position than when lying chest down or on their sides.

"I think the reason for that is that 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 which are on their sides for too long, or on their sternum 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," Radcliffe explained to the BBC.

Other categories that won a prize at the Ig Nobel Prize awards include a look into how the obesity of a country's politicians may be a good indicator of that country's level of corruption, an analysis on the variations in cat-human communication, the use of genetic analysis in identifying the different species of bacteria that reside in wads of discarded chewing gum, and the testing of a hypothesis that humans evolved beards to protect themselves from punches to the face.

The ecology prize honoured research into the array of bacteria living on chewing gum stuck to pavements, while the biology prize went to Dr Susanne Shötz at Lund University for her extensive work on the purrs, chirps, trills, hisses, howls, growls and meows that constitute feline communication.

Cem Bulut, a professor at the SLK Clinics in Heilbronn in Germany, and colleagues won the medicine prize for research that suggests sex with orgasm is an effective nasal decongestant. Having developed suspicions based on "self-observation", Bulut recruited a group of co-workers to investigate.

The obliging couples were trained with a device to measure their nasal airflow before sex, immediately after sexual climax and at regular time points thereafter. According to the team's report, sex was as effective at clearing blocked noses, for an hour at least, as commercial decongestants, though Bulut concedes he did not get firm data from everyone. "I think some people couldn't focus on the device," he said.

How sex might unblock the nose is not entirely clear, but Bulut sees a number of factors in play. "I think it's a mixture of excitement, physical exercise, and hormonal changes that come with orgasm," he said.

* Compiled from BBC, Aljazeera and DW reports

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