Veteran actor, James Cagney, epitomized the phrase, "you dirty rat" in all of his iconic gangster films of yesteryear. The modern rat does have a dark reputation indeed, but in Tanzania, Angola and Mozambique, rats are heroes that detect landmines and save lives. Read for more and... close your mouth.
We all know about rats;their sharp teeth and disease-riddled bodies scamper about the dark and dirty underbelly of our cities and towns. While that is all true, they are, in their own rodent way, not unlike Pit Bulls, who have also unfairly garnered an bad reputation because of how they have been tortured and socialized to fight and maim. (See: Bonnets for Abigail.)
APOPO And The Giant African Pouched Rats
The Belgian organization, APOPO, is training giant African pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis, two of Africa's cruelest threats to human life. Headquartered in Tanzania and founded some twenty years ago, this enterprise is a leader in addressing global issues through education, research, development and the deployment of scent detection technology. Started by Bart Weetjens, who kept these giant rats as pets when he was a boy in Belgium and believed there had to be a way to harness their intelligence, sociability and availability to help humanity. (See: Service Dog Helps Children Testify In Court.)
The Hero Rats
Since 2007, these amazing rats have detected more than 56,000 landmines and other explosives. They are so light-footed that there hasn't been a single casualty. they are also out there in harm's way combating against Africa's TB crisis that claims the lives of 1.5 million people every year. Clinics are few and far between and diagnostic testing is often inaccurate. The situation, already dire, is compounded by the fact that every untreated person can infect up to a dozen other people. (See: Hero Dog Attacks Suicide Bomber At Wedding Party.)
The rats live about 8 years in captivity and are socialized as pups. They are trained to respond to the sound of a clicker, which means food (peanut butter and banana mash) and they know they must search for the target scent before they can get their reward. They are specifically trained to sniff out either TNT explosives, which are contained in mesh tea balls or TB by using sputum samples from infected patients. (See: Pudding The Hero Cat.)
More than 60 countries suffer from the lethal treachery of hidden landmines and these rats are fast because they are not attracted to scrap metal and their noses only detect the scent of explosives. This makes them much faster and far more efficient than metal detectors. APOPO's TB detection rats can check as many as 100 samples fro tuberculosis within the span of 20 minutes. this is an amazing feat, especially when compared to the fact that such a task would take up to 4 days for even the most competent lab technician to complete. (See: Frida The Dog Saves Earthquake Victims.)
Whoever would have thought that the lowly rat would be the creature to aid humanitarian causes? Does that mean there is still hope for us humans? We can only hope so.
Kudos to APOPO!
And keep up the good work, you wonderful dirty rats!