APOPO trains and works with African giant pouched rats to help detect and remove landmine threats. This is truly a spectacular idea, as the rats are intelligent, highly trainable, and too small to set off the landmines. The trainers develop a loving and dedicated relationship with their rat partners. These HeroRATS (as they call them) are extremely well cared for and given a specialized diet with regular exercise and much personal care and playtime. They also have weekly care from a dedicated onsite vet. At four weeks, the rats begin to be regularly handled by their trainers and begin training with a treat-reward system. (They love bananas!) First, they train safely with tea eggs filled with the smell of TNT to learn the smell and gradually work their way out to the field with real explosives.
These rats are treated as heros, as that is what they truly are. They are smart and an integral part of the landmine detection process of Cambodia. They are saving lives every day, and everyone respects the hard work they are doing to save the community.
APOPO works in solely African countries with the exception of Cambodia-the first country they have began work in outside of Africa. Over the years, APOPO and its HeroRATS have detected and destroyed 107,633 landmines, saving the lives of 957,350 people from the threat of explosives.
I think it’s important to realize how intelligent and integral these rats are. They are true heros and another proof that man and animal can respectfully work together in many capacities. I hope this knowledge can help to give rats a better reputation than they currently have, because they really are incredible creatures.