“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