Trained bomb-sniffing rats may well be the heroes of the future who will save the lives of thousands of people all over the world. APOPO, a Belgian NGO, is researching, developing and training rats to detect landmines. The HeroRats, as they are called, are able to quickly and accurately locate landmines better than humans can.
Trained HeroRats are able to search and locate 200 square meters of land within 20 minutes, a task that takes humans 25 operational hours to complete using metal detectors. The African giant pouched rat was specifically chosen for the program because its acute sense of smell can detect TNT in low concentrations when buried 15 to 20 centimeters underground. While human deminers are sometimes killed or injured on the job, to date no rat has died as a result of detection work.
HeroRats work Monday to Friday and rest on the weekends, with a typical workday lasting from 7:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with a lunch break in between.
Weekly health tests are done to make sure the rats are in their best state to perform, and sunblock is applied to their ears before they go into the field to protect against skin cancer.
HeroRats are able to live up to eight years in captivity and are allowed to retire when they grow old or don’t feel like working anymore.
Humans have to stop and investigate every alert of metal scrap (i.e. coins, cans), but HeroRats are able to sniff out both metal and plastic-cased landmines.
The rats are calm, docile and have a sensitive sense of smell.
APOPO’s mission is to develop detection rat technology to provide solutions to global problems and inspire positive social change.
Locating and deactivating landmines will allow local communities to use the land productively.
The organization was founded in 1998 and has operations in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Pressure-activated anti-personnel landmines require 5 kg of pressure to be activated. The heaviest operational rat doesn’t exceed 1.5 kg.
There was a global average of nine mine-related casualties per day in 2013.
The detection of these deadly explosives prevent the needless deaths of countless humans. Detecting landmines is time-consuming, dangerous and expensive for humans.