APOPO: Saving Lives With HeroRats


APOPO is an innovative social enterprise that uses trained rats, called HeroRats, to save lives in Tanzania and Mozambique. Currently, the rats are used for two purposes: landmine detection and tuberculosis screening.

How It Works

APOPO, which stands for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende ProductOntwikkeling (Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development, in Dutch), raises and trains African Giant Pouched Rats for its purposes. The species was chosen because it was large, docile, easily trained, long-lived, and indigenous to the areas of Africa where it would be used. The primary disadvantage of the species is the fact that it is nocturnal, which limits the hours it is available to work during daylight hours.

Fortunately, HeroRats are fast workers. A single landmine detection rat can cover 100 square meters in about 20 minutes, while a human worker with a metal with a metal detector would take about two days to cover the same area. Additionally, the rats are too light to set off a landmine themselves, reducing danger to both themselves and human landmine detectors and assistants, and they do not get distracted by harmless scrap metal such as discarded aluminum cans because they sniff out the TNT in landmines, rather than the metal. A tuberculosis (TB) sniffing rat can test as many human saliva samples in seven minutes as a human lab technician can in a full day. The rats have also correctly sniffed out early stage TB in samples that lab testing missed.

In addition to being fast, effective workers, HeroRats are easier and cheaper to care for than sniffer dogs. It takes about six months to one year to fully train a HeroRat, starting right after the rat is weaned from its mother, at about four weeks of age. Training sessions last about 30 minutes per day, five days a week, and begin with getting the rat used to being handled by humans before teaching them to associate a clicking sound with a food reward and then to associate correct identification of TNT or tuberculosis with the click and the food reward. Once the rat has been fully trained on APOPO training fields, it must undergo a series of test before it is accredited to work in the field. Like sniffer dogs, HeroRats are recalibrated before each job to match the specific types of landmines expected in the area.

To date, APOPO and its HeroRats have returned more than 1,312,027 square meters of land to the local population, safe and free from landmines, and increased TB detection rates in its partner hospitals and clinics by over 30%.

How You Can Help

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As a social business, APOPO relies mainly on donations for research and development and mainly on service fees to cover the day-to-day expenses of the business.

At HeroRat.org, you can “adopt” a HeroRat for just 5 Euros per month and help cover the cost of training, food, housing, and other expenses for the rat. In addition to helping to support the rat’s lifesaving work, you will also get regular updates on the progress of your rat.

One time gifts are also accepted. 7 Euros (~ US$10) purchases three days worth of banana treats for training rats.

Finally, you can support the rats’ work by purchasing a cool HeroRat t-shirt or other gear from APOPO’s Cafepress shop.

Learn More about APOPO and Its HeroRats

This post was written by:

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