Belgian non-profit APOPO is making waves in search and rescue efforts by training African Giant Pouched Rats, affectionately known as HeroRATs, equipped with specially designed hi-tech backpacks.
These rodents, weighing up to 1.5 kg, are being trained in Tanzania to aid search and rescue operations anywhere in the world.
According to APOPO, HeroRATs possess a keen sense of smell, agility, and trainability, making them ideal candidates for navigating disaster zones and locating victims. Unlike common rats, African Giant Pouched Rats have a longer lifespan, living up to 8 to 10 years in captivity. This longevity ensures an extended working career post-training.
The program began in August 2021 at APOPO’s Training and Research Centre in Tanzania where the rats were taught to locate humans in simulated disaster zones, with plans to enhance training in more complex environments. HeroRATS have also been trained to detect landmines and even tuberculosis in humans.
Engineers at Eindhoven University of Technology have developed multifunctional backpacks for the HeroRATs. The backpacks include a video camera, microphone, speaker for two-way communication and a tracking device.
The rats are being trained to pull a microswitch around their necks when they locate a victim.
This action triggers real-time wireless audio-visual communication, allowing handlers to be alerted to potential victims.
By leveraging the unique abilities of these HeroRATs and incorporating cutting-edge technology in their backpacks, APOPO aims to revolutionize search and rescue efforts, especially in challenging disaster scenarios. This initiative showcases the diverse ways in which animals can contribute to humanitarian causes.
APOPO currently has 104 HeroRATS working in 10 countries alongside 434 staff.