someone in the world is maimed or killed by a landmine every hour. apopo is a not for profit ngo that has spent the last twenty years developing and implementing “hero rats” to clear affected areas of their landmines - over 1500 in tanzania, where apopo is headquartered, 2,728 in mozambique, and 657 in thailand. there also ongoing operations in angola and cambodia.
rats are known to be amongst the most sensitive animals when it comes to smell, with more functional genes for their olfactory system than any other mammal. a rat’s nose is constantly active and moving, and is always close to ground where vapour concentrations are highest and wind speeds are lowest.
the african giant pouched rat, being highly sociable and native to sub saharan africa, is specifically trained to detect tnt and mine casing minerals. using a combination of click training and food rewarding that begins shortly after birth and lasts nine months, the rats are able to cover 100 square metres of land in 20 minutes - something a human would need an entire day to do.
weighing just over a kilogram, the rats are too light to set off a landmine, and not one has died from the work. apopo adheres to very strict animal welfare protocols, and the rats are treated with the greatest of care and attention, with most meeting their expected eight years of life.
photos by sylvain piraux. consider adopting a rat, where you’ll get real time updates on your rat’s training and life saving work. you can also chose to instead have your rat trained to sniff out tuberculosis in sub saharan african villages (apopo has trained rats to do in ten minutes what it takes lab technicians a day to detect)