Archive for APOPO
www.telegraph.co.uk 9th November 2010
Old land-mines have been a particularly problem in countries such as Mozambique,which saw long periods of civil war in the latter stages of the 20th century. The hidden explosives acted as a constant reminder of the past and hinder development by effectively sealing off large parts of land. However, a Dutch non-governmental organisation called APOPO may have found a solution. They have trained rats to not only sniff out land-mines, but also tuberculosis. The rodent’s acute sense of smell can easily detect the TNT within the mines. Giant African Pouched rats are trained from the age of 4 weeks old to give off a click sound to signal a food reward, usually banana, whenever they make a correct detection. Two human deminers can take a whole day to clear a 200 square-metre minefield but with the help of the rats they can do the same area in two hours. “Detection is the most difficult, dangerous and expensive part of mine action. Since rats are much easier to train than dogs, rats in this environment are much more appropriate,” said Bart Weetjens, the founder of APOPO. “They are very effective. We have very high success rates. So far they have helped re-open almost two million square metres of land”. So far the mine-detecting rats are being used mostly in Mozambique but others have been trained to work in hospitals in Tanzania. By sniffing out tuberculosis in laboratory sputum samples, they provide a second-line of screening for doctors in an environment where lab testing only has 60 percent accuracy. APOPO have now set up an adopt-a-rat scheme to help raise funds for the successful project.