The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : The Hero Rats of Africa Sniff Out Land Mines — and TB Infections

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Hero Rats of Africa Sniff Out Land Mines — and TB Infections

MOROGORO, Tanzania — The grass is still damp with dew as the sun begins to glint over the Uluguru Mountains. It’s only 7 a.m. in Morogoro, Tanzania, but Oprah and Malala and Taylor Swift and the others are already hard at work. They are heroes in the region, literal saviors to thousands of Tanzanians and those in the international community as well. It is on this large swath of land that giant African pouched rats, often named by their handlers after celebrities or loved ones, are meticulously trained for nine months to sniff out land mines. Down the dusty red dirt road, you’ll find others just like them — but there the rats are training in a laboratory, learning how to detect tuberculosis amid thousands of samples.

It is here in the field that APOPO, a nonprofit organization that trains African giant pouched rats to undertake such endeavors, works its magic. The humans are patient, methodical, while the rats seem eager to learn — an interaction reminiscent of a new owner training a puppy. After each rat undergoes its daily weigh-in — they are generally between two and three pounds — it is put in a harness to walk one of the areas marked off on the field. It paces the ground, scratching feverishly when it detects a dismantled land mine beneath the surface. An APOPO worker uses a clicker to notify the rat that it is correct. The rat then scrambles to receive its treat of bananas or peanuts. After nine months of training, they are shipped out to APOPO’s partner organizations in various countries, where they will detect and help dismantle thousands of land mines that have been left over from decades of prior conflicts.

To read more on this story, click here: The Hero Rats of Africa Sniff Out Land Mines — and TB Infections

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