Beyond belief: HeroRats πŸ€
January 21, 2015 10:33 PM   Subscribe

HeroRats: "If people step on landmines, they will get hurt, but the HeroRats are too small to press the button that explodes the bomb. Then people can dig up the landmine without it exploding and no one gets hurt." (PDF document). The associated Twitter account: @HeroRATs. They tweet at celebrities for the LOLs and to raise awareness, as well as interacting with fellow Tweeters.

More about 'giant pouched rats,' or Gambian rats, and how training the rats to detect landmines is done. (The rats also can be trained to detect tuberculosis; how it's done.)

apopo website; three selections from the FAQ:
"Question: What does APOPO mean?"
Answer: "APOPO is an acronym from Dutch which stands for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling, or in English, Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development."

Question: "How may rats to do you have?"
Answer: "In October 2014 we had 81 rats in various stages of training for landmine detection and 5 in training to become TB detection rats. The TB-lab in Morogoro had 36 HeroRATs at work. At our headquarters in Morogoro, 29 rats were involved in the breeding program. In Angola, we had 20 HeroRATs operational and 76 rats were working in landmine detection operations in Mozambique. In the TB lab in Maputo, there were 9 rats working.​"

Question: "Who came up with the idea?"
​Answer: "​It was Bart Weetjens, our founder, who came up with the idea. Bart kept pet rats as a child. During his studies, he was carrying out an analysis of the landmine problem in Sub Saharan Africa and realized that landmine clearance was dangerous and costly. He had recently come across an article about gerbils and their ability to detect explosives in lab conditions, and when he thought back to the sense of smell of his pet rats, and their trainability, he put two and two together et voilà. He consulted with Professor Ron Verhagen, a rodent expert at the University of Antwerp, who recommended the giant African pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus) because of its long lifespan and adaptation to the harsh conditions in Africa.​"​
See the website for more of the FAQ​.​
​
Foundation Beyond Belief website

Previously: Hero Rats, We Called 'Em. / HeroRATs Clear Landmines
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (20 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
via tweet by ​Karen James (@kejames).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:34 PM on January 21, 2015


I would love to know specificity and sensitivity figures for the TB-skilled rats versus the human lab personnel (the FAQs say the rats are "at least as accurate" but I am enchanted and want numbers!)
This is a really neat project!
posted by gingerest at 11:00 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I love this, especially as it introduces more people to how smart and cool rats can be - what a great way to deal with a terrible problem. As a former rat owner, there's this awful feeling of being the Elves in Tolkien, because you have these smart and loving creatures that live and die in what seems like a heartbeat.

Damn this dust!
posted by nfalkner at 11:11 PM on January 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


I suppose it makes sense that the company is Belgian, considering that the disposal of WWI-era explosives is a going concern in Flanders. Perhaps the country as a whole is somewhat preoccupied with things buried in the ground that will murder you.

The war detritus recovered by farmers every year is referred to as the Iron Harvest, which is literally and metaphorically* hella metal.

*Litaphorically.

posted by logicpunk at 3:38 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also previously, previouslier, previousliest.
posted by reynaert at 3:40 AM on January 22, 2015


Hey, I'm friends with some of the people who work here!
posted by rebent at 6:35 AM on January 22, 2015


Um, if this is a Belgian organisation then the name comes from Flemish, not Dutch as they are different languages. My mom is a native Belgian and she'd be upset with me if I didn't say anything. Also German beer is crap compared to Belgian brews, French fries come from Belgium and waffles are a snack food not a breakfast food. Thank you.
posted by VTX at 6:46 AM on January 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


I know Joseph Conrad is fully awesome, but I'm happy to see an FPP that shows rats are fully awesome, too.
posted by Maisie at 6:47 AM on January 22, 2015


I love this project!
posted by ChuraChura at 6:52 AM on January 22, 2015


For those of you who haven't checked out the info on "giant pouched rats, or Gambian rats", these aren't the sort you'd set a trap for. They range from 2-3' long, nose to tail tip, and weigh about 2-3 pounds.

These are the sort of animal that gets upset when the mousetrap goes off on its paw. So, it's more like sending non-neurotic teacup chihuahuas (pretend, OK?) to dig up mines, than big lab mice. One could easily dig a sizeable "Look Here!" hole on a landmine. That makes the project make even more sense to me - they fall in-between too small to find if they don't come back, and so big they might set off a mine.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:04 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fun fact about Gambian giant pouched rats: there was a brief interest in them for the pet trade, but the CDC banned their sale and transport in the US after one of them helped cause a brief epidemic of monkeypox. So a breeder in the Florida Keys went 'fuck this then' and released all their breeding stock, which has resulted in the giant pouched rats becoming invasives throughout the Keys.

You thought you had problems with mice, man, imagine a 3-foot long pouched rat colony setting up shop in your backyard shed...
posted by sciatrix at 7:13 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey guys! Thanks for spreading the word about our HeroRATs. I'm happy to answer any questions you have.

@gingerest - In answer to your question about TB. I'm not sure exactly what info you need but here are some headline stats for you...

β€’ One APOPO Herorat/TB Detection rat evaluates more samples in ten minutes than a lab technician can in one day
β€’ WHO recommends that a TB technician may not examine more than 20 TB smears in one day. AnAPOPO Herorat/TB Detection rat can evaluate over 20 samples in 10 minutes3.
β€’ A rat screens a hundred samples in less than 20 minutes, a task that would take a lab technician more than four days3
β€’ APOPO HeroRATs/TB detection rats find a further 40%of TB in samples that have already been tested negative by conventional (microscopy) methods(Beyene, Mahoney, Cox, Weetjens, Makingi, & al, 2012)

We publish all of our research on our website here if you want to take a closer look.
posted by APOPO_HeroRATs at 8:07 AM on January 22, 2015 [24 favorites]


So a breeder in the Florida Keys went 'fuck this then' and released all their breeding stock, which has resulted in the giant pouched rats becoming invasives throughout the Keys.

Gotta feed those pythons something.
posted by yoink at 8:34 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Joseph Conrad is fully awesome is fully awesome. :)
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:49 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


(So I think there should be a project to work through the entire emoji keyboard and look for the most awesome stories for each, like this one. I hope someone will do πŸ™ and πŸ‹ and maybe πŸ—½ , or the whole eclipse series with 🌞 πŸŒ— 🌏 ...)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:37 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


VTX, the official language of Flanders is standard Dutch, as spelled out specifically in legislation since 1973. This does not prevent Flemings from speaking regional varieties of Flemish (which are similar to Dutch) in private.
posted by dhens at 10:23 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


dhens: This does not prevent Flemings from speaking regional varieties of Flemish (which are similar to Dutch) in private.
But if they speak it in public, they risk having their waffelbachs de juree a bientot... plus applicable fines and court fees.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:46 PM on January 22, 2015


They range from 2-3' long, nose to tail tip

So, bulls-eyeing one from a T-16 would only be about twice as hard as getting a precise hit on the small thermal exhaust port below the main port on a first generation Death Star. That's not impossible.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:24 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


My personal pic of a GGPR, taking five after some mine-sniffing training in 2004.
posted by chortly at 6:00 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


this is excellent news for my side business selling rodent-sized landmines

hit me up warlords
posted by klangklangston at 6:04 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


« Older Confusion Through Sand   |   Death of Banks Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments