Foot pressure distribution in White Rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum) during walking

Panagiotopoulou, O and Pataky, T C and Hutchinson, J R (2019) Foot pressure distribution in White Rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum) during walking. PeerJ, 7. e6881.

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Abstract

White rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum) are odd-toed ungulates that belong to the group Perissodactyla. Being second only to elephants in terms of large body mass amongst extant tetrapods, rhinoceroses make fascinating subjects for the study of how large land animals support and move themselves. Rhinoceroses often are kept in captivity for protection from ivory poachers and for educational/touristic purposes, yet a detrimental side effect of captivity can be foot disease (i.e., enthesopathies and osteoarthritis around the phalanges). Foot diseases in large mammals are multifactorial, but locomotor biomechanics (e.g., pressures routinely experienced by the feet) surely can be a contributing factor. However, due to a lack of in vivo experimental data on rhinoceros foot pressures, our knowledge of locomotor performance and its links to foot disease is limited. The overall aim of this study was to characterize peak pressures and center of pressure trajectories in white rhinoceroses during walking. We asked two major questions. First, are peak locomotor pressures the lowest around the fat pad and its lobes (as in the case of elephants)? Second, are peak locomotor pressures concentrated around the areas with the highest reported incidence of pathologies? Our results show a reduction of pressures around the fat pad and its lobes, which is potentially due to the material properties of the fat pad or a tendency to avoid or limit “heel” contact at impact. We also found an even and gradual concentration of foot pressures across all digits, which may be a by-product of the more horizontal foot roll-off during the stance phase. While our exploratory, descriptive sample precluded hypothesis testing, our study provides important new data on rhinoceros locomotion for future studies to build on, and thus impetus for improved implementation in the care of captive/managed rhinoceroses.