A “hero rat” being trained to detect landmines by a member of APOPO, a Belgian NGO with its operational headquarters in Tanzania. Numerous landmines remain live and undetected in dozens of countries, reportedly claiming several lives daily (generally children). Mine detection remains costly and difficult, but rats remain surprisingly ideal for the task.
For starters, they are hardy, adaptable, and found all over the world. They are also cheap to acquire and easy to breed and care for. Most importantly, however, rats are intelligent, sociable, and quick learners. With one of the most sensitive olfactory systems of any mammal, they are capable of detecting trace amounts of TNT and mine casing. After around nine months of training involving clickers and rewards, the rates prove incredible efficient: in a mere 20 minutes, they cover around 100 square meters — over 1,000 square feet — which would take an entire day for conventional detectors.
Thankfully, the rats are too lightweight to set off the mines, and none have reportedly died thus far. They’ve cleared thousands of mines in such hotbeds as Thailand, Mozambique, and Tanzania itself, with programs being primed in Angola (with Norwegian assistance) and Cambodia.
As if all this weren’t amazing enough, the aptly named hero rats are also trained to detect tuberculosis, which infects millions of people worldwide, mostly in poor countries lacking healthcare facilities. They can determine who is infected by this chronic disease in just ten minutes; it would take a medical lab at least one day.
Learn more by checking out the official website. It’s remarkable what human innovation can develop, especially in combination with the amazing natural ability of animals.