“Scratch and sniff” Africas HeroRATS

I know, 2008 was the year of the rat – so I’m a year late….guilty as charged,  but then again, things are ‘never late in Africa’ are they?

I heard about this extraordinary use of rats years ago and am hoping that sharing it today will bring a smile to many faces. Although Mozambique’s civil war ended nearly two decades ago, unexploded ordinance continues to be a major cause of injury and death. But now they have a solution. Rats! Local giant rats are being trained and employed to assist in mine detection.

De-mining rat

De-mining rat

The rats are attached to little red harnesses and guided down the length of a 100-square-meter field by their trainer. When the rat hits on a suspected mine, it stops, sniffs and starts to scratch. These rats are not only huggable, but they are smart (unlike some African politicians who are neither smart nor huggable), they work fast – two can cover 200 sq m per day – an area that takes a human 2 weeks.  And are too light to detonate the mines they’re sniffing so don’t worry, they do not go BOOM…splat!

The project to train rats started in Tanzania as a collaboration between Belgians and Tanzanians at Sokoine University through an organization called APOPO. They call the rats HeroRATS and their website is full of information, history, heroRAT worship and yes, you can even adopt a HeroRat for 5 Euro per month, chose between Allan, Chosen One, Kim or Ziko.

Adopt a HeroRat

Adopt a HeroRat for 5 Euro per month

and by the way when I said “giant rat” I meant, “GIANT rat”!

Giant rat

After finding a mine, the giant Gambian rat is rewarded with a banana

Rats have the amazing record of being able to detect mines 95% of the time. If only all our politicians would work this hard and for a banana….. I keep hoping against hope…

For more scientific information, read this article in the Journal of Mine Action

22 comments » Write a comment

  1. Thanks Ariniaina, these rats are amazing, they are now being used in medicine also – to detect tuberculosis!

  2. love it paula
    they make me smile indeed

    of course the question rises if it is humane to train animals in our advantage, take them out of their natural environment…but I guess..which rat wouldn’t want to be a super hero?

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  4. Thansk Frerieke, in some parts of Africa these rats are raised for food … hardly humnae. But in this project and just talking to people who have seen this project in action, and judging from the photos, the folk who handle the rats seem to be emotionally attached to them. The rats apparently have individual personalities (I don’t know why Is should be surprised at that). The cute naming of each suggests the same but I’ll check up on that – I mean after 8 years of de-mining, how do you rehabilitate a giant rat to go back into rat society? It’s something I’m going to look up and get back to you

  5. and you right African leaders are neither huggable nor clever! I should know I live in South Africa.

  6. Thanks Renee and Sokari. I think Africa is in trouble when it comes to leadership but Kenya may have the monopoly on ‘really dumb’ leaders.

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  9. Sure beats the traditional method of detecting landmines in that country, which is to let the women walk in front.

    Ex Mozambican.

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