It was observed previously that end-expired carbon dioxide (PÉCO2) decreased when immobilized black rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis) were moved from sternal to lateral recumbency. These experiments were designed to test whether greater alveolar ventilation or greater pulmonary dead space in lateral recumbency explains this postural difference in PÉCO2. Twenty-one (9 male, 12 female; 15 [3.5–26] yr old) wild black rhinoceroses were immobilized with etorphine and azaperone and positioned in either sternal or lateral recumbency. All rhinoceroses were hypoxemic and had lactic and respiratory acidemia. The animals in lateral recumbency were more acidemic, had higher lactate, and lower arterial oxygen that those in sternal recumbency; however, arterial carbon dioxide was similar between groups. Both PÉCO2 and mixed expired carbon dioxide pressure were lower in lateral than sternal recumbency. Although there was no difference in tidal volume or arterial carbon dioxide, both the breathing rate and minute ventilation were greater in lateral recumbency. The physiologic dead space ratio and dead space volume were approximately two times larger in lateral recumbency; hence, the decrease in PÉCO2 in lateral recumbency can be attributed to increased dead space ventilation not increased alveolar ventilation. Positioning immobilized rhinoceroses in lateral recumbency does not confer any advantage over sternal in terms of ventilation, and the increase in minute ventilation in lateral recumbency can be considered an energetic waste. Although arterial oxygen was superior in sternal recumbency, further studies that measure oxygen delivery (e.g., to the muscles of locomotion) are warranted before advice regarding the optimal position for immobilized rhinoceroses can be given with confidence.
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