Thursday, February 3, 2011


I love to read stories about animals, particularly happy stories about animals. So when I found a story about the HeroRat program on Amusing Planet, I knew I had to write about it. HeroRats is a program started by an organization named APOPO in Sub-Sahara Africa. The organization was looking to find a way to deal with the huge numbers of unexploded landmines that harmed hundreds of innocent citizens every year. A standard program of sweeping with mine sweepers was too slow and dangerous. So the group came up with a novel solution.

What they suggested was using rats to find landmines. Rats have an amazing sense of smell and are light enough not to trip a landmine. The rats were sent into the fields to cover it inch by inch. When the smelled a landmine they would sit up, and receive a food reward. The mine clearers would then enter the field and deactivate the mine. I wonder how many mines they have found over the years but I can imagine that there have been hundreds of lives saved. Over the last couple of years, the rats role has changed to include illness detection. They can sniff out TB faster than any doctor can.

The rats are trained using positive reinforcement for three months and then sent out to serve. The company has found that African Giant Poached Rats work well. They live for a long time and learn quickly. They are also incredibly cute. They are used mostly in Tanzania and Mozambique which had a huge number of mines. You can check out the profiles of these unusual animal heroes at their website. You can also sponsor a rat if you would like. I'm in awe of this program. The rats are treated well and save lives on a daily basis. Both the rats and trainers are heroes in my book.

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