Hero Rats

Hi Folks:

Yes, it’s been over a month since we’ve posted anything, and for those who drop by regularly we apologize for that!  However, as the saying goes, “You won’t recognize the house when you come to visit; we’ve moved.”  We’re now able to see actual floor instead of just boxes so we’re back!  Now then…  the following isn’t new, but it is relatively new to us and we appreciate what they’re doing so we thought we’d share it.

I don’t think anyone has ever considered war a good idea.  From time to time there have been those who have found it necessary for one reason or another, but eventually there are winners and there are losers, politics and policies change, map lines are redrawn and everyone picks up their stuff and goes home.  Well, almost everything.  Among those items left behind are ‘anti-personnel devices’, a.k.a. landmines. 

One estimate is that there are over 110 million landmines in the world, distributed over more than 70 countries.  Another page suggests that the top 10 countries with landmines have close to a hundred million landmines between them.  Landmines are found in forests, in fields, by wells and other water sources, along paths and roadways and in buildings.  Living with landmines has huge costs on many fronts – social, medical, economic and more.  It’s been suggested that 27% of the arable land in Libya is still unusable – 50+ years after WWII – because of landmines still in the ground.  Those affected are largely soldiers, but women and children are maimed and killed every day by landmines.  Even if every country in the world signed the Mine Ban Treaty today there would still be millions and millions of mines left in the ground.

Now, if you read our blog regularly you know that we like to focus on the positive, and that’s what this blog post is really about.  Removing landmines is both dangerous and expensive.  There are several ways to locate and remove landmines – using humans, robots and dogs, and all of these methods have their pros and cons.  But there’s another way too… Hero Rats.  Yes, that sounds like the title of a Disney movie, and truly, this story would make a good movie.  Gambian pouched rats (also known as African giant pouched rats) are a common pest in Africa, but (for us humans) they have one very good thing going for them: they have an amazing sense of smell.  They’re also not heavy enough to trigger landmines, so both the rats and their handlers remain ‘relatively’ safe.  A group in Belgium named Apopo is working with local people in Africa to train and use African giant rats as mine detectors.  From their website:

“APOPO’s Mozambique Mine Action Program is a committed partner to the National Demining Program of Mozambique, working to rid Mozambique of its landmine legacy. In 2008, APOPO was tasked as the sole demining operator for clearance of the Gaza Province (the most mine-affected Province in Mozambique), with the goal to clear all known remaining minefields in the Province by 2014, in accordance with Mozambique’s mine-ban treaty deadline extension request.

Since the start of our operations, APOPO’s mine action team (HeroRATs and their human colleagues) has helped to return over 2.8 million square meters of land to the population in Mozambique. In doing so, the team has found and destroyed: over 1,860 landmines, 783 Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs) and 12,817 Small Arms and Ammunitions (SAA).”

Although their original mandate was to clear Gaza province by 2014, there are suggestions that they may be finished their work there by the end of this year – two years ahead of schedule – and they’re hoping to have Mozambique completely mine free by 2014.  Average clearing cost for 2011 was $1.50 USD/m2.   That’s amazing, considering that “In 1996 the UN Secretary General estimated that it would cost more than $50 billion to remove landmines throughout the world. However, in the same year, less than $150 million was available for removing mines.”  Rats won’t replace dogs entirely, but rats are cheaper to train and maintain, work ‘for peanuts’, and are very intelligent, lovable, social animals.  Their noses are so good in fact that other rats are being trained to detect tuberculosis (TB) from human sputum (spit) samples.  TB is another huge problem in Africa, and left undiagnosed can spread very readily.  A trained rat can diagnose 40 samples in 7 minutes, and samples confirmed by 2 rats are then subjected to microscope analysis. In tests, rats increased new case detection rates by 40 percent.

Interested and want to help?  Why not ‘Adopt-A-Rat‘?  Christmas is coming and it would make a great gift for a loved one.  No you don’t get to take the rats home but you do get to support very valuable work.

Click on the picture below to see a video on Hero Rats in action!

Hero Rats at Work.

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Hugs,
M&M

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