Thirteen Facts about HeroRATs and the APOPO!
1. APOPO is an acronym from the Dutch Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende ProductOntwikkeling meaning Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development.
2. HeroRATs are trained to detect and pinpoint the location of a landmine. Their size and weight make it highly unlikely they would set of a pressure-activated mine by scratching or pointing.
3. Rodents are the biggest order of mammals, with more than 2,000 species. Among these, APOPO selected the African giant pouched rat or ‘Cricetomys gambianus’ for mine detection as they are calm, docile, and easy to tame.
4. African giant pouched rats weigh between 0.7 and 1.5 kg, and their average body length is 30-40 cm, excluding the tail of 40 cm. They live in burrows underground, where they usually have different chambers. They collect food and other items in their pouches, store them underground, and always trace their path by sense of smell – behavior similar to the demining task.
5. APOPO uses a combination of click training and food rewarding. Training starts at the age of five weeks, when juveniles are weaned from the mother. At first, the animals are nursed for one week by the caretakers so they can get used to humans. Then they are taught to associate a clicking sound with a food reward. After that, they have to perform certain tasks to get this reward. After odor imprint, the complexity of their tasks gradually increases.
6. HeroRATs are trained about half an hour per day, five days per week. During this period, they are on a food-for-work diet. During the weekend, they feast on an extensive varied meal.
7. During the week, trained rats live on a reward diet that consists mainly of bananas and peanuts. On the weekend, they eat a balanced diet of grains, maize, nuts, vegetables, fruits, fish, and sometimes insects.
8. Captive-born rats enjoy attention, including being petted and being taken on daily walks. APOPO has several outside pens where the rats can play and get used to an outside environment. Other rats walk around freely in the kennel during clean up of their cages – they don’t attempt to escape, they just wander around and explore new environments.
9. Generally, most rats remain with the same trainer, but show no significant difference in performance when taken over by a new handler.
10. APOPO breeds their heroes in training at their center in Tanzania. Successfully trained rats that are taking a ‘work holiday’ also participate in the breeding program. African giant pouched rats only have two to three litters a year with an average of about three young pups are born in each litter.
11. HeroRATs work Monday through Friday and play on weekends.
12. You can get HeroRATs Gear Here!
13. You can be a part of e-RAT-icating the dangers posed by landmines by adopting a rat today!
Learn more about HeroRATs and Meet Them at HeroRAT!
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You've got to hand it to the Dutch – I don't think anyone else could have come up with that idea, or made it *work*! 🙂