Dogs have long been used to sniff out landmines, but now rats are getting in on the action. APOPO, a Belgian NGO, is busy training giant African pouched rats to smell out bombs and other explosives.
Since 1997, the non-profit organization has been working hard on the same mission, and as a result they have successfully taught rats how to scan a 200 square meter space for explosives in only 20 minutes. This is extremely impressive considering it would take humans over 25 hours to search the same space using mine detectors.
Globally there were 9 mine-related casualties everyday in 2013. In other words, when rats smell out landmines thousands of people from all around the world could be saved from death and injury every single year.
The HeroRats are the perfect little critters for the task, so perfect in fact not even one of them has died in the line of duty. That’s because the average mine will only detonate with 11 pounds of pressure, and even the largest male rats never weigh more than 3.3 pounds.
The rats are looked after in more ways than one, sunscreen is applied to their delicate ears daily to prevent sunburn and skin cancer. If by any chance a rat does develop skin cancer, or any other disease, they are given proper medical treatment.
The Hero Rats smell out landmines for only so long before it’s time for them to retire, at which point they are still cared for and allowed to live out the rest of their natural life happily and in peace.Rats often get a bad rep but it’s for no good reason. Rats are much cleaner and more beneficial to society as a whole than people give them credit for. Bart Weetjens the founder of APOPO has kept rats for pets since he was a child.
When he originally suggested using rats to detect landmines people thought he was crazy, but now nearly 10 years later people are taking him and his non-government non-profit organization very seriously. Weetjens fondly refers to his rats as “HeroRats,” although their official name is the Mine Detection Rats.It costs $6,590 to train each rat, and the heroic rats retire within 4-5 years, or when they are no longer interested in the work.