APOPO Rats, Rodents of Unusual Size Saving Lives

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 22, 2015 in Rat News | Subscribe

Think of a rat. What comes to mind? Very few people would answer, “a hero,” yet that’s exactly what the rats of APOPO are. The Tanzania-based Belgian NGO uses rats to save lives by sniffing out land mines. Though its difficult to calculate the number of land mines buried in Africa—experts estimate the number to be in the millions—there have been 18,000 land mine related deaths between 1999-2013. Clearly, it’s a huge problem.

why use rats, though?

But why rats, of all animals? Bart Weetjens, the founder of APOPO, notes that the advantage of using these rodents is that they are cheap to train, cheaper to procure, and plentiful. Including all administrative and operating costs, each of the APOPO rats costs about $7,600

how were apopo rats thought up?

Weejns began studying the possibility of rats for land mine detection as a student at the University of Antwerp. As he had grown up with pet rats, he now wondered if he could use them as a low-cost solution to a global problem. “I kept rodents as a boy, so I knew they were very trainable, sociable and intelligent creatures,” says Weetjens. “For me, this was a natural fix.” In 2003, APOPO began using rats, termed HeroRats, to clear land mines in the war-torn country of Mozambique. At that time, Mozambique, due to a devastating civil war that ended in 1992, had the world’s most serious land mine problem. To date, the APOPO HeroRats have cleared over 7,000 mines from Mozambique. The country is expected to be land mine free by the end of 2015. After Mozambique, APOPO plans on focusing on Angola’s land mine problem. Currently, Angola has an estimated 10 to 20 million active land mines.

The rats are capable of clearing almost two hundred square feet per hour. A feat that would take almost fifty hours to accomplish by an all-human land mine clearing team. The HeroRats are cheap, quick, and effective. If their land mine clearing powress were not enough, the APOPO rats have recently been used to detect tuberculosis by sniffing blood samples. APOPO begins to expand their work on Tuberculosis in the next few years. For more information, check out APOPO’s website.

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