How rhinos, one of the heaviest land animals, use their stumpy little feet to distribute their weight has left scientist puzzled for decades.
Now a team from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is one step closer to unravelling this mystery.
Rhinos at Colchester Zoo have been trained to walk across a hi-tech track that is packed full of sensors.
This will allow the researchers to measure the pressure and forces in the rhinos’ feet to reveal how the weight is distributed.
“Rhino feet are a bit of a mystery to us,” the BBC quoted Prof John Hutchinson, from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC)’s structure and motion laboratory as saying.
“There is a little bit known about their anatomy and their health, but nothing that is known about the mechanics of their feet, the physics, the physiology, the detailed anatomy or the behaviour of how they use their feet,” he stated.
The animals are given a signal - a gentle touch on the horn with a pole - so that they walk through a small, narrow enclosure, which has been fitted with the pressure track.
“The pressure pads measure the amount of force per unit area that the rhinos are placing on individual regions of their feet at a high resolution,” said Prof Hutchinson.
Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou, who is also working on the study, is interested in looking at the differences between how elephants and rhinos carry their weight.
Elephants have five toes that point forwards, giving them a tip-toed stance, as well as a recently discovered sixth “false toe” that points towards their heel, and a squishy pad at the back. Rhinos have three rigid toes, with a more evenly spread pad across their feet.
“Our preliminary results show that there is a difference in the distribution of weight between an elephant and a rhino’s foot,” said Dr Panagiotopoulou.
“Elephants generate the highest pressure on the outside part of the feet, whereas rhinos have the highest pressures on the inside part.
“The next step is to try to see if there are any anatomical differences or differences in the loco-mechanics to account for this,” he added.