How to Fly a Rhino

Rhinoceros (Source: Getty images)

I never thought of flying a rhino until the BBC published an article on the subject the other day. Imagine flying a 1.5 tonne animal in an airplane: what does it entail? what are the challenges? why do it in the first place? Here are a few excerpts from the article; for the full version, check out the article ‘How do you get a rhino to fly‘. At the end of the article, I felt sad that humanity has come to this in order to preserve an endangered species from humans! Is the answer to relocate all endangered species all over the world to avoid extinction? Any ideas?


Several rhinoceroses (Source:

… 12 white rhinos have just left their native South Africa for a new life in a nearby country, as part of an anti-poaching project.

The beasts spent 15 hours in a truck, plane, and helicopter to get from a game park in KwaZulu Natal, on South Africa’s east coast, to their new location.

Step 1: Blindfold and ear plugs

“The animals are caught and put into a steel crate that’s specially designed to contain them, and designed to fit in the aircraft.”

… “You have to immobilize them – make them go to sleep completely, and then blindfold them. And then you put earplugs in their ears.

South Africa map_KN
Original location of the rhinos

And then, you slowly give them a little bit of [sedative] reversal, enough so they can stand up. They’re uncoordinated at that stage – so then you put a rope round their heads and you pull them slowly into the crate.

They have to walk on their own feet because they’re very heavy. You can’t move a tonne of sleeping meat!”

The rhinos need to be awake throughout the flight so they can move their legs and regulate their own breathing. “The problem with a flight that long and an animal this big, is that if it lies for too long, that restricts circulation to the leg. And they get pins and needles – and then occasionally the animal could lose the use of that leg.”…

Step 2: Roll it into the plane

Then comes the heavy lifting. With the rhinos safely in their transport crates, a crane lifts them onto the back of a truck bound for the airport.

Rhinos being sedated (Source: Getty images)

Next, the crane deposits them on a loading vehicle, which will move them on to a plane.

“In this case we had rollers on the floor,” … “We just laid them onto the rollers, and then rolled them into the aircraft. …

The process involves a significant team of human helpers. “The loading – you’ve normally got between 10 or 12 people per rhino. And we normally do two at a time, so 25 people.”

Sadly, the move requires an armed security contingent due to the threat from poachers. Trading in rhino horn has been banned globally for four decades, but the substance – traditionally used in Chinese medicine – has a higher black market value than gold or cocaine.

there are four rhinos airborne at any one time, “in a big military transport plane”.

For all the other steps, go to the BBC page.