Though the rhinos appeared to breathe better on their sides, with larger amounts of air entering the lungs in this posture, the researchers found that much of this air was not taking part in carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange with the blood and so it was wasted. The researchers discovered that when rhinos are on their bellies, gas exchange is much more efficient and, as a consequence, the oxygen levels in the blood are much higher than when they are on their sides.
Future research may address the effects of positioning during anesthesia on the cardiovascular system.
Intentional management of rhinos is one of the best ways to ensure their survival; this includes moving them to protected areas away from poachers, reintroducing them to areas where they have been hunted, and relocating them to ensure genetic mixing, Radcliffe said. Poachers killed more than 1,000 black and white rhinos last year, and already more than 500 have been lost this year.
The work was funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, along with generous support of Radcliffe and the Cornell Conservation Medicine Program provided by Kathy Ruttenberg. The researchers were invited by the Namibian Ministry of the Environment and Tourism to conduct the study.