Gallery: HeroRATS Trained to Sniff Out Landmines

 

Most people view rats as nothing more than pests, but one organization regards the critters as heroes. APOPO, an African-based non-profit, trains African Giant Pouched Rats to sniff out unexploded landmines. Organizers hope the rodents, or HeroRATS, will eventually be deployed across the globe as a cost-effective method to safely and efficiently detect and detonate hidden landmines.

Founder Bart Weegens began the HeroRAT project in Belgium with funding from the Belgian Directorate for International Cooperation. After successfully demonstrating the rats’ abilities to detect landmines, the project moved to Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture. Rats are currently only sniffing out landmines in Mozambique, but negotiations are underway to expand the project into Zambia, Congo and Angola.

Rats are ideal candidates for detecting landmines because they are easily trained, possess superior senses of smell and are too light to actually detonate the explosives themselves. Plus, they’re much cheaper than traditional landmine-detection methods. In an unrelated benefit, the rats can also identify the presence of tuberculosis just by sniffing mucus.

In order to learn how to sniff out mines, rats are trained from a young age to associate the smell of explosives with receiving a treat (usually a piece of banana or a peanut). Once they can successfully detect mines, rats are harnessed and attached to a long string being held at both ends by trainers. Rats move along the line, sniffing at the ground. If a rat detects explosives, it sits still and scratches itself. Soil samples can also be brought to the rats. If a rat does detect explosives in the ground, the mines are safely detonated by humans.

While discovering landmine locations is certainly important to prevent human casualties, the process has implications for the earth, too. If landmines are suspected to be present in a certain area, the land must be abandoned, which oftentimes leads people to farm or carry out their ways of life on fragile or marginal areas.

+ HeroRAT

+ APOPO

Socyberty via Notcot

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5 Comments

  1. inne December 23, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Hi everybody!
    I just found this page and wanted to thank you all for you nice words, especially RJ for his great article on socyberty.com! As a volunteer from APOPO I’d love to answer any questions you might have – you can always email my at inneATxs4allDOTnl.

    As a small gift I’d like to give you all e paper art folding rat,designed by the talented japanees children book writer SatoshiKitamura, specially made for APOPO.
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/20022410/Paper-art-rat-for-APOPO-by-Satoshi-Kitamura
    You can download the file, print it, cut out the rat and fold him.Every time you see him, you know who glad we are with the kind wordsand attention you give us.

    Best wishes, Inne ten Have

    (ps: this is the same comment I wrote down at socyberty.com, sorry for the double, but I wanted to let you know too how grateful I am)

    http://socyberty.com/issues/unexploded-landmines-call-for-the-herorats/#comment-213755

    @opalsky:
    Thank you so much for your nice words!
    The problem with digital sensory devices is the price and the high technology – the people with the problem (landmines in their fields) don’t have the money, nor the knowledge to take control of their lives by expensive high-tech solutions. By keeping the solution as simple and cheap as possible, chances increase that people can take control themselves and get a life without having to beg for help. Of course our work still costs momey but we dream of a world where the poorest can clear there own fields without our money or technology.

  2. opalsky December 17, 2009 at 7:30 am

    Heather Mills must be so grateful to the Belgian HeroRat organization for training these intelligent creatures.
    After losing part of her leg to a land mine explosion, she has been very vocal about governments tracing their
    locations and detonating them. This must be a huge triumph for her cause, even though it is a private
    organization conducting it.
    Ideally, digital sensory devices could be used for detection…but if organizations persist using animals for
    research, then I hope that by channeling their resources HUMANELY, they will, continuously, be reminded of how
    precious the animal’s primal instincts, and intelligence are.
    People in wheelchairs and who are blind; autistic children; people with epilepsy; people who are oblivious to
    oncoming natural disasters; these are all individuals who’s lives have been made more mobile, more aware, and
    saved, by the presence of animals in their lives.
    So, to the HeroRats , we must be grateful. To their trainers, we must be watchful. Here’s hoping for safe
    environments for all on this earth.

  3. garwood December 16, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    cute may be a stretch, but it’s nice to see someone putting them to work for a good cause. i wonder if they get worker’s comp. kidding.

  4. Kirsten Corsaro December 16, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Amazing! As an aside, I hope that if and when rats are used in other parts of the world, they’ll use local species rather than importing the African rats.

  5. Crysti December 16, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    This is a very cool advancement!

    It’s nice to think of a world where such animals can be invaluable to us.

    They sure are cute!

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