In case you’ve been wondering what rats have been up to lately, besides menacing the streets, occupying grain depositories, and generally making themselves a nuisance, you might be interested to know that rats are working very hard on a global level to combat two difficult problems plaguing people: land mines and tuberculosis. Two very different issues yet both presenting a persistent and often times fatal outcome for humans.
While reading a newspaper article on the problem of rats in Chicago and how the city is deploying cats to manage the problem, I wondered if rats were doing anything of such social significance. I dug around and came across an organization called “Apopo” which deploys rats to sniff out land mines. Why rats? For starters, they are lightweights, meaning they are not heavy enough to trigger a land mine. They have an exceptional sense of smell, they are intelligent and relatively calm creatures who like repetitive tasks. They are locally sourced and widely available, travel well, and have no separation anxiety about transferring from one human trainer to the next. They are low maintenance, cheap to feed, easily bred, and can contribute their skills for a productive lifetime of eight years on average. Best of all, they’re well-adaptive, remaining healthy in captivity.
Why is the organization named ‘Apopo’? It stands for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling in Dutch, or Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development in English - an organisation that trains and deploys rats, named HeroRATS, for the detection of abandoned land mines and tuberculosis.
Here’s an introduction to their work:
We train rats to save lives.
APOPO is a social enterprise that researches, develops and implements detection rats technology for humanitarian purposes such as Mine Action and Tuberculosis detection. APOPO is a Belgian NGO, with headquarters in Tanzania and operations in Mozambique, Thailand, Angola and Cambodia.
To solve pressing humanitarian challenges with detection rats technology.
To develop detection rats technology to provide solutions for global problems and inspire positive social change.
Our core values
• Quality - Demonstrating and promoting high standards in research, design, training and implementation of detection rats technology
• Social Transformation - Developing skills, creating jobs, improving socio-economic and environmental conditions, releasing land for development, and combating public health issues
• Innovation - Pioneering creative research and innovative solutions within a participatory learning culture
• Diversity - Embracing diversity in all facets of the organization with respect to age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, physical abilities, nationality or ethnicity
Here’s a bit more on their story:
The story of APOPO truly began when Bart Weetjens, founder of the organization, developed a special relationship and appreciation for the rodents he kept as childhood pets in Belgium. Years later, this relationship would yield more than just friendship; it would offer the opportunity to help change a world where landmines pose a threat to life and progress in more than 60 countries and where Tuberculosis affects millions of lives across the world every year.