How do you airlift a rhinoceros?

60 Minutes captures a bold way to help preserve a critically endangered species

How do you airlift a rhinoceros?
How do you airlift a rhinoceros? 00:38

How do you move a ton of rhinoceros from one remote place to another without hurting the animal? Very carefully, is the answer and a helicopter can help make the operation a smooth, albeit astonishing, one. 60 Minutes captures it all when Lara Logan reports from South Africa on a black rhino conservation effort that hangs the prehistoric-looking animals upside down on a helicopter that airlifts them to their new homes. Her report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT.

No matter how it looks, it's medically safe to hang the rhino by its feet for periods of time, says Dave Cooper, the chief veterinarian for Kwazulu-Natal provincial parks in South Africa. "It looks as if the animal's really uncomfortable. But we've done our homework… We hung rhino upside down with cranes and sat and monitored their vitals on top of this sophisticated kind of equipment," he tells Logan.

The animals are sedated for the flights, which usually last less than ten minutes. They have not lost a rhino in over 200 such airlifts.

Black rhino numbers are dwindling because many have been killed or injured by poachers seeking their valuable horns. The animals are moved from one area to another to help repopulate the species.

Veterinarian Jacques Flamand started the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) with support from the World Wildlife Fund in 2003. The project takes rhino from public and private game reserves and places them in other locations where new populations can be started. The helicopters make the project possible says Flamand. "Some of these rhino are in very inaccessible parts of the reserve. And this method of airlifting them provided us with an opportunity. I immediately thought that this is the solution to our problem, getting them out of rugged mountainous or thick forested areas where vehicles cannot go in," he tells Logan.

60 Minutes follows the process from darting and capture to the spectacular take-off and flight and is there when the rhino reach their new home. Says Flamand, "One always feels sad removing them from their existing homes but it's for a good cause. It is to start a new breeding population."