HeroRATs demonstration, Azerbaijan. Photo UNDP
Welcome to your latest update on the HeroRATs work and what an exciting few months it has been, thanks to your generosity and support of our HeroRATs’ work!
We are delighted to let you know that we have successfully deployed a new team of 12 newly qualified HeroRATs to Azerbaijan in the last quarter, as well as 20 staff members, and they are currently undergoing acclimatization training.
This year, a new project was launched to support the safe return of internationally displaced people in Azerbaijan. The project will help around 33,000 returned families to feel safe again and enable them to begin restoring their livelihoods. Landmines and other unexploded remnants of war prevent the safe and voluntary return of displaced families. Last month APOPO participated in the launch of this EU-funded project entitled “Supporting Safe Return of Internally Displaced People through Capacity Building of Mine Action Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan (ANAMA)”. The project is implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in partnership with ANAMA, International Eurasian Press Foundation (IEPF), and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG).
A ceremony in Terter marked the official commencement of training for the country’s first female demining teams and featured live demonstrations of APOPO’s HeroRATs. Along with the new IEPF female demining teams being trained by MAG, our HeroRAT teams will be deployed this month. We are thrilled to be able to increase the number of animal detection teams in Azerbaijan and contribute to ANAMA’s accelerated landmine clearance efforts across the country. This is only possible through support such as yours, so thank you again for your enduring support.
APOPO’s HeroRATs also proved their mettle in detecting wildlife contraband in a real-world field trial at Dar es Salaam seaport in Tanzania. Despite increased efforts to curb this illicit trade, the seaport of Dar es Salaam, which handles 95% of Tanzania’s international trade, continues to face challenges in detecting wildlife contraband. Existing screening methods are expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive to legitimate trade, making it difficult for authorities to keep pace with sophisticated tactics employed by organized crime networks.
APOPO aims to deploy our HeroRATs to improve the screening process for detecting commonly trafficked wildlife products, such as pangolin scales. The results of this trial have unveiled a promising solution that could transform existing screening methods and provide a valuable tool in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade (IWT).
Dr. Izzy Szott, APOPO’s Behavior Research Scientist leading the team responsible for the latest trial had this to say:
“The trials showed that our rats were able to work confidently and effectively in an operational seaport, The rats performed searches across four different search strategies and, working with their skilled handlers, found over 83% of planted wildlife targets. These findings are significant indicators of the potential of our rats to aid in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade. Not only can rats do the work, but in addition, the involved government parties were impressed and voiced their critical support.”
The trial revealed significant promise, highlighting the rats’ potential to screen sealed shipping containers through their vents, search inside opened, stuffed containers, as well as screen a variety of stand-alone/individual items. Multiple rats could be deployed simultaneously to navigate the vast number of containers, quickly identifying illicit shipments in a matter of minutes. Importantly, the rats demonstrated adaptability to the noisy port environment and performed consistently well with different handlers.
The trafficking of endangered species and the IWT have grave implications for the conservation and survival of threatened wildlife, as well as the economies and security of affected countries. IWT threatens iconic species and robs communities of their natural heritage. This illicit trade is intricately linked to other global criminal activities, including drug and weapons trafficking, modern slavery, and the exploitation of vulnerable communities. Smuggled wildlife products, skilfully concealed within shipping containers, pose significant challenges for detection and interception. However, by developing innovative methods to detect and deter IWT, we can disrupt these networks, help bring perpetrators to justice, and safeguard endangered species.
With the success of the trial, APOPO is now focused on scaling up the program and fine-tuning the rats’ capabilities for real-world deployment. We also plan on training more rats, potentially extending detection capabilities to additional endangered wildlife products and exploring further opportunities for their deployment in airports and across land borders.
Through ongoing collaborations and continued support from donors such as you, APOPO aims to establish HeroRATs as standard screeners in ports worldwide, making a lasting impact on wildlife conservation efforts and becoming part of the solution for a safer, more sustainable future for our planet.
Thank you so much again for your amazing generosity and help to achieve these brilliant milestones.
We hope you have enjoyed reading about the success that your support has brought and please do not forget to follow us on our NEW project page (58093)!
Team trialling HeroRATs at Dar es Salaam Seaport
HeroRATs sniffing shipping container air vents