05/27/2014 01:43 pm ET Updated May 27, 2014

This Is How You Airlift A Rhino To Safety (PHOTOS)

It's rather difficult to move a rhino. So in order to protect threatened species of rhinoceros from poachers, conservationists in South Africa use a technique that has proven effective in recent years: string the rhino up by its ankles, and transport the animal to a new location.

During a recent transport in April, photographer Emma Gatland followed a team as they captured and relocated a white rhino in Kwa Zulu Natal. (One member of the group also captured video footage of the remarkable operation.) Both subspecies of the white rhino are considered near threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"There aren’t many people who get to witness a rhino lift," Gatland told National Geographic. "It’s a new procedure, which is gentle on the rhino as it shortens the time the animal is kept drugged. The rhinos are airlifted using an old Vietnam Huey [helicopter], which in itself is an adventure. They are lifted roughly 500 – 1000 meters into the air suspended by their ankles."


To prepare a rhino for transport, wildlife experts capture the animal and administer a sedative so the rhino does not struggle during transport. They then wrap the rhino's snout and tie restraints to each of its legs in order to distribute the weight evenly. Flying the rhino, rather than moving the animal by car, apparently makes for a speedier and less bumpy form of transportation.

While the method may sound inhumane, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife -- which was behind the recent move -- assures critics that airlifting a rhino is quicker and safer than other means of transport that have been used in the past. The government-run wildlife conservation organization has airlifted rhinos from dangerous and inaccessible territories as part of World Wildlife Fund's Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, launched in 2003.

Despite conservation efforts, South Africa has continued to struggle with its poaching problem. Last year, poachers set a terrible new record in the African nation by killing more than 1,000 rhinos for their horns, Reuters reports.

See Gatland's photos of the recent rhino lift, below.

Rhino Airlift


Rhino Overload