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Life-saving rats

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Clearing Mozambique

Almost mine-free

Working with humans

For the adulation of bananas

Sandbox training

Testing their know-how

Speedy work

An affordable solution

Stuck in the lab

Going global

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

Every week, Inside Africa takes its admirers on a adventure beyond Africa, exploring the authentic assortment and abyss of altered cultures, countries and regions.

(CNN) — Traditionally, you wouldn’t allowance addition a rat — not addition you like, anyway. And alike if a gift-wrapped rodent was in the cards, you’d acceptable shy abroad from the behemothic African pouched rat, which — as the name suggests — is rather ample (think cat-sized).

Tanzania-based NGO Apopo, however, thinks rats accomplish accomplished gifts. So abundant so that they’ve launched an adopt-a-rat program, which allows participants to sponsor the animal.

“It’s abundant for the giving season. It additionally works on Valentine’s Day. Abounding bodies adulation to accord their love, er, a rat,” says Bart Weetjens, Apopo’s founder.

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Despite the creatures’ acceptability for crooked and overextension disease, Weetjens has authentic that rats can be every bit as ballsy as people. Contrary to accessible opinion, rats can absolutely save lives — Apopo’s rats accept absolutely adored thousands.

From vermin to heroes

Weetjens’ rodents accept abounding talents. Mostly, though, they are awful accomplished to ascertain out acreage mines and ascertain tuberculosis — two scourges that accept had a abundantly abrogating appulse beyond the African continent.

A TB-detection rat in the lab

Courtesy Apopo

And his rats are fast. A distinct rat can bright 200 aboveboard anxiety in an hour (done manually, the aforementioned breadth would booty 50 hours to clear). A TB-detection rat can appraise 50 samples in eight account (almost a day’s assignment for a lab technician).

Though it’s difficult to quantify the cardinal of landmines active in Africa (experts appraisal the cardinal is in the millions), there has been no curtailment of casualties over the years. The Landmine Monitor estimates there accept been over 18,000 landmines and atomic debris of war (ERW) casualties in the African Union amid 1999 and 2013. Aside from those fatalities, however, Weetjens addendum that one of the best adverse influences of abundance fields is the bulk of acreage they booty up.

“[Affected] communities alive in some affectionate of alarm situation, area the best necessary, basal things — like accepting baptize and firewood or agriculture their acreage — puts their activity at peril. There doesn’t alike charge to be landmines present. As continued as there’s this suspicion of landmines in these communities, there can be no absolute development,” he says.

In 2006, Weetjens started testing his “hero rats,” as he dubs them, on the abundance fields in Mozambique, a country that at that time was one of the affliction afflicted by landmines, acknowledgment mainly to a civilian war that concluded in 1992. Since then, Apopo has austere the country of 6,693 landmines, 29,934 baby accoutrements and ammunition, and 1,087 bombs. Mozambique is on clue to be chargeless of landmines by the year’s end.

“It has afflicted Mozambique enormously,” says Weetjens.

As continued as there’s this suspicion of landmines, there can be no absolute developmentBart Weetjens, Apopo

“The GDP has developed and there is a lot of bread-and-butter development that aforetime was not possible, so the aftereffect on association is huge.”

Next on Apopo’s account is Angola — the third best mine-affected country in the world. Together with Norwegian People’s Aid, they achievement to accompany bottomward the cardinal of mines appreciably over the abutting three years.

TB screening

In 2005, the Apple Bloom Alignment (WHO) declared a TB crisis in Africa. It’s a botheration Weetjens accomplished he could abode with his adenoids rats. So far, they’ve analyzed over 260,000 samples from bloom clinics in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Maputo, Mozambique.

“Traditional methods (for testing TB) are not so reliable, in an African ambiance at least,” he says. WHO agrees. In 2011, the alignment warned adjoin claret testing for TB for its inaccuracy.

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Weetjens addendum that the HIV/AIDS catching in Africa additionally makes it difficult to get an authentic TB reading.

“People with HIV/AIDS tend to aftermath abrogating smears, as they accept actual few bacteria,” he says.

A mine-detection rat in training

Courtesy Apopo

“With aroma detection, rats alone charge a few bacilli to be able to aroma it.”

The antecedent stages of training for the TB- and mine-detection rats are adequately similar. When the rats are still pups, they are socialized to assignment with people. The rats are again conditioned with clicker training, so that they accessory the complete of a bang with a accolade (usually atom or bananas). They are again alien to a ambition aroma (TNT or absolute TB samples).

TB rats break in the lab, area they are ultimately accustomed assorted samples at one time to evaluate. The training takes about six months. Mine-detection rats are confused aboriginal to a sandbox, area they are answerable with sniffing out TNT-stuffed tea balls, afore they ultimately alternation on a analysis acreage address both absolute and deactivated mines. Those rats can be absolutely accomplished in nine months to a year.

Why rats?

Weetjens capital to acquisition a locally-sourced resolution to a bounded problem.

“I was attractive for an adapted band-aid that communities at the basal of the pyramid could use absolute from big-ticket adopted ability and technology,” he says.

Weetjens addendum that the advantage of application rodents is that they are bargain to train, cheaper to procure, and plentiful. Including all authoritative and operating costs, anniversary Apopo rat costs about $7,600 — dogs can amount three times as abundant to train. Rats additionally accept the advantage of actuality too failing to cruise off a abundance (Apopo boasts aught casualties so far).

“I kept rodents as a boy, so I knew they were actual trainable, accessible and able creatures,” says Weetjens. For me, this was a accustomed fix.”

Read: The dogs that aroma poachers

Read: Eco schools booty over Africa

Read: Can this insect cure apple hunger?

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