A black rhino is transported by helicopter in South Africa. Picture by AP Photo.
A black rhino is transported by helicopter in South Africa. Picture by AP Photo.

Ig Nobel awards winners’ whacky rhino research has judges laughing out loud

By Shaun Smillie Time of article published Sep 11, 2021

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Johannesburg -Upside-down rhinos, secret cat human language and orgasms that clear nasal passages – it all had to do with award winning science where the winners became instant dollar trillionaires.

On Thursday, top scientists from around the world gathered online for the “other” Nobel prize ceremony.

These were the Ig Nobel awards where the winners have to fulfil a simple premise.

Their research has to first make people laugh and then think and as is usual with the Ig Nobels, there were some whacky research topics.

None more than flying rhinos.

This year’s winners for the transportation award were a team of researchers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Brazil, Tanzania, UK and the US.

Their research topic in science speak was: “The Pulmonary and Metabolic Effects of Suspension by the Feet Compared with Lateral Recumbency in Immobilized Black Rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis) Captured by Aerial Darting.”

Or simply put: Is it safer to transport an airborne rhinoceros upside down?

In recent years, transporting rhinos feet in the air has become the preferred way of moving these heavy animals.

But no one had investigated the effects this had on the tranquilised animal’s heart and lungs.

As part of the research, the team hung rhinos from cranes. They did admit that before the rhinos took their spot under those cranes, humans were tested first.

Other research that got the judges laughing was that of Susanne Schötz of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who won the biology prize for analysing the variations “in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other modes of cat–human communication”.

A team of scientists from Spain and Iran collected the Ecology prize for their work in examining the bacteria in chewing gum that had become stuck on pavements in various countries.

The economics prize went to Pavlo Blavatsky, for “discovering that the obesity of a country’s politicians may be a good indicator of that country’s corruption”.

And professor Cem Bulut of the SLK Clinics in Heilbronn, in Germany, and colleagues won the medicine prize for their research that suggests orgasms are an effective nasal decongestant.

Bulut came up with the research idea from “self observation”.

Usually the annual spoof awards ceremony is held at Harvard University, in the US, but Covid 19 restrictions meant for a second year running it was held online.

Each of the winning teams received an award of a counterfeit ten trillion Zim dollar note.

In the coming weeks the winners will give free public talks explaining their research. And again, because of the Covid 19 pandemic, the lectures will be presented online at www.improbable.com.

But in the end, behind the laughs is some real science as Pete Morkel of the air rhino team pointed out.

“You know, the beauty of it is that it has really changed rhino translocation. It is accepted and the next thing we’ve got to do is do some research on some of the other species like elephant, buffalo, hippo, maybe even giraffe and see if they should be picked up by their feet,” he said.

The Saturday Star

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