Monday, October 31, 2016

One Rat I can get behind

Throughout the world, places that have been involved in war and/or civil strife often have large minefields that still need clearing.  In 2013, it was estimated that there was a global average of around nine mine-related deaths every day.  The situation is especially dire in Africa. 

Typically, clearing a minefield involves men in body armor walking in very precise lines with metal detectors.  Anything (from a rusty nail to an old ammo cartridge) that sets the detectors off must be investigated before moving on.  A new method of bomb detection using rats, however, is flipping this process on its head.  A Belgian NGO called APOPO has developed a way to train African pouched rats (named for the storage pouch in their cheeks) to sniff out bombs quickly and safely. 
They used this rat because it has an incredibly fine-tuned sense of smell and a long lifespan (8-9 years) to yield returns on the nine months of training they undergo.
They're called Hero Rats, and NOT ONE
has died in the line of duty since the program started in 1997. 

The average mine requires 5 kg (roughly 11 pounds)
of weight to trigger an explosion,
but even the biggest of these rats
are only around 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds). 
Since they're trained to sniff out explosives exclusively,
they aren't distracted by other metal objects
the way human minesweepers are. 

  They can effectively search 200 square meters
in less than 20 minutes.
A team of humans would need
around 25 hours to do the same job.

Since they're in the African sun a lot,
the Hero Rats get sunscreen to keep them cancer free.
If a rat does get cancer,
it receives full medical treatment.

The rats are "paid" in avocados, peanuts,bananas and other healthy treats.
After about 4-5 years on the job
(or whenever they lose interest in working),
they're allowed to retire.

Retirement consists of eating all the tasty fruit
their little hero heart's desire.
Reprinted from


  1. I gave my grandson, Phineas, a Hero Rat for his birthday last year.

  2. I love this comment from a friend of mine and asked permission to post it. Ginny

    Thank you for sharing this positive image of rats. I never thought I would love rats myself until two years ago when my daughter, Loryn (then a junior in high school), was in an AP Zoology class. In class they were to train rats to play basketball. At the end of the school year in June everyone was able to take home any of the rats they wanted. The rest would be used as snake food. My daughter and her friend Leah took all the 'leftover' rats, 18 in all. They split them up between the two of them and a third friend, 6 in each home.

    My husband and I agreed on having 3 rats and we were going to find forever homes for the other 3. Well that never happened. We got to know the rats and their personalities and loved them all. We lost one this past June to an upper respiratory infection and another this past August to tumors. Both very common rat issues. I never thought I would cry over a sick rat. They are my fur grandchildren and I love them all dearly. My daughter is in her freshman year of college and missing her babies terribly. They were her therapy when she was stressed out. I send her pictures and videos to help. Two rats visited her last week to meet her new friends. I don't think people realize how awesome rats can be as pets.

    Thank you again for sharing.

    Michelle, school librarian