Watch out for upside down rhinos and potty-trained cows

Published 4:55 pm Friday, September 17, 2021

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While browsing the Internet this week, I stumbled across some truly bizarre animal stories (and a few not-so-bizarre-but-still-interesting ones too). So if you’ve missed out on checking the news this week, let me catch you up on some scientific animal research and other weird things.

Did you know that people can receive not only the Nobel Prize but also the “Ig Nobel” Prize? (Ignoble? Get it??) The prize is actually a parody award (not affiliated with the Nobel Prize at all) that’s annually awarded by the science magazine “Annals of Improbable Research” for curious and imaginative discoveries.

This year’s winners included a group of researchers who attempted to see whether rhinos are more safely transported if they’re suspended upside down.

Yep, that’s right! If you airlift a rhino somewhere else, these scientists wanted to know if letting them hang upside was better for the animal. Surprisingly, the answer turned out to be “yes” because the rhinos had higher blood oxygen levels while upside down. The discovery can help conservationists in Africa transport the animals more easily when necessary. (For the record, this method was one of a few already being used, but now there’s scientific proof that it’s a good idea to continue.)

I’m glad that works out well for the rhinos… but I definitely would get motion sick if I had to fly upside down.

But that’s not the weirdest scientific study I’ve read about recently. That honor goes to some researchers in Germany who are… potty-training cows. Yep, they’re teaching our bovine neighbors to use a toilet just like the rest of us!

The idea is that it’ll be better for the environment, since cow waste is a major source of ammonia emissions, which can mix with other factors to create greenhouse gases. And large animals such as cows can produce several pounds and gallons of waste each day.

Jan Langbein, co-author of the study, was quoted explaining the idea: “Why shouldn’t (cattle) be able to learn how to use a toilet? Animals are quite clever, and they can learn a lot.”

I’m a bit skeptical of that statement, but the process (which they called “MooLoo training”) actually seems quite simple. They rewarded the cows when they used the restroom in a special closed latrine, and gently splashed them with water as a punishment when they’d go potty outside in the field. After 10 days, they successfully trained 11 of the 16 calves in the experiment.

I have no experience potty-training human children, but I guess it usually takes longer than 10 days at least. So the cows have that in their favor, at least.

I suppose there’s no harm in potty-training cows… but I do wonder if the cows will be patient enough to wait in line if the latrine is occupied!

The next story sounds like it was ripped right out of a Michael Crichton novel, specifically “Jurassic Park.”

Researchers at Harvard Medical School recently received a $15 million investment to continue working on efforts to “resurrect” the wooly mammoth.

Notably, wooly mammoths went extinct 4,000 years ago. But people who want to use fragmented, frozen DNA to create a sort of present-day elephant-mammoth hybrid say that it would be good to let them roam around in the Arctic. They say the creatures used to help trample grass and compact snow, which might potentially keep permafrost from thawing.

But other scientists say there’s no evidence the animals will actually do that. And they say there could be ethical issues if living elephants were used as surrogates for the genetically-engineered animals.

If creating a real, live wooly mammoth were successful, the most likely thing to happen is that they’ll end up in a zoo somewhere.

And if you’ve seen or read Jurassic Park, then you should know that might not be the best idea… Maybe someone should invest $15 million more in top-notch zoo security just in case.

But that’s still just hypothetical. My last story isn’t all that bizarre, but it does feature an escaped zoo animal.

A 5,000-pound rhino named Jontu recently made his way out of his pen at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

Despite being considered a “code red” dangerous animal escape, Jontu was found not too far away in a non-public area, merely munching on some grass. The rhino display is shared with several deer who had eaten all the grass inside, so apparently, he was just searching for a snack.

Zoo workers said that Jontu probably got out after a gate wasn’t closed properly.

Thankfully, the staff had been trained for emergency situations such as an animal escape, so they didn’t have any troubles urging Jontu back to rejoin his fellow rhinos. They lured him with fruits and other treats.

It’s a good thing they didn’t have to airlift the wandering rhino upside down to get him back home. Though apparently, that would have been just fine for him if they did!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.