Adopt A Rat?

I was just poking around over at the atheist blog Bay of Fundie and noticed a link on the right side to “Adopt a Rat.”  Given that the blog’s author is known for his tongue in cheek humor and general irreverence, I assumed it had something to do with a human “rat”….Pat Robertson, perhaps?

Having just told some friends that I needed something more uplifting to comment on today, I was pleasantly surprised to find the link led to a program known as HeroRATS run by APOPO which trains real rats to find landmines and to recognize a tuberculosis infection:

The APOPO Mine Action Program in Mozambique uses a three-tiered approach: bush cutters clear vegetation from the area, allowing access for manual deminers to enter the minefield and prepare safe lanes and boxes for the mine detection rats (official HeroRAT name in the minefield) to search. The locations that are indicated by the rats are then followed up by manual deminers, who detect and destroy the mines.


Once all the land in a district is complete, there is a ceremony where the land is officially handed back to the community. From that point forward, the community is able to return to their homes, start farming, build necessary infrastructure etc.


Since the start of operations, APOPO has returned over 2 million square meters of land to the community in Mozambique.


Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. As data reported by the World Health Organization indicate, TB was responsible for the deaths of 1,770,000 people in 2007. TB currently infects about 2 billion people and roughly 1 in 10 of them will become seriously ill with the disease.


HeroRATs offer a local solution to the TB epidemic. A rat can evaluate 40 samples in seven minutes, equal to what a skilled lab technician, using microscopy, will do in one day. Without requiring sophisticated instruments, this method is non-invasive and can handle a high volume of samples, all very important factors in a pro-active screening approach.


The concept is very simple: rats sniff a series of holes, under which human sputum samples are lined up for evaluation. They pinpoint the samples that contain TB bacteria. Their correct indications are rewarded with a food treat.

Since I had a high school friend with a pet rat, I was well aware that rats are quite intelligent little creatures, capable of being taught tricks – I’ll admit that finding landmines is one heck of a trick!  It’s amazing to hear about these much maligned animals doing so much good for humans.  Here’s some fascinating rat FAQ from their main website and here’s an interesting article from on the program.

If you are looking for a good cause to support or an appealing one to introduce your children to charitable giving with, I would encourage you to read more about this charity.  To ensure your donations qualify as tax deductible, please follow the simple instructions for your country on this page.


  1. lbwoodgate said,

    March 1, 2011 at 4:07 am

    Fascinating read. Most animal species unlike humans have retained their keen senses that are important for survival. As the human brain developed, cognitive skills reduced the reliance of other senses to survive. That’s not all bad but we could save a ton on our health insurance if we could sniff out cancer ourselves other than what it cost in today’s high priced health care system. 😉

  2. March 1, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I read about dogs being able to sniff out cancers – it was fascinating.

    I can sniff out chocolate at 20 paces, so I haven’t lost all my survival skills.

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