HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

by APOPO vzw
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis
Two of APOPO's Heroes: Shaibu and a HeroRAT
Two of APOPO's Heroes: Shaibu and a HeroRAT
Mozambique Mine Action results in 2011

APOPO and the HeroRAT team in Mozambique are off to a great start for 2011! So far, we’ve cleared over 239,859 square meters of land. In doing so, we’ve found and destroyed: 282 landmines, 78 unexploded ordnances, and 1,763 small arms and ammunitions. That’s a lot of TNT! 

We’re not stopping there either. Moving forward with our clearance plan for 2011, APOPO estimates completion of all the remaining known minefields in the Gaza Province this year – well ahead of Mozambique’s Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention deadline in 2014.

From 2012 onwards, our Mozambique team will be re-assigned to assist with mine action operations in other contaminated provinces. APOPO has shown commitment to the National Clearance Plan and is well-positioned to continue its unique and effective clearance system, helping Mozambique reach its goal of being a mine-free country by 2014.

APOPO-PRO project gets started in Thailand

APOPO has made significant progress in setting up our Thailand Mine Action Program, with the support of the Thailand Mine Action Center (TMAC). In 2010, TMAC requested APOPO to conduct a combined non-technical and technical survey of all mine suspected areas in the provinces of Trat and Chantaburi along the Thai-Cambodian border. Preparations for the project started in October 2010, and APOPO is excited to report that the survey will be conducted in partnership with a local NGO in Thailand, Peace Road Organisation (PRO).
APOPO’s Head of Operations, Håvard Bach, and Thailand Project Manager, Kjersti Tokle Fjellhaug, are now working together with TMAC to produce training courses and Standard Operating Procedures. The training of the survey team will likely begin in mid 2011. Although the HeroRATs will not be utilized during the first phase of this project, we are looking into bringing the rats to Thailand at a later stage to speed up clearance, when the necessary funds are secured. This will aid Thailand’s efforts to comply with the 2018 APMBC deadline.
APOPO aims to help Thailand and TMAC to streamline its operational land release decision making concepts and is prepared to establish a technical survey and clearance capacity to follow on after the survey, and continue to release land for as long as the problem exists or funding permits. APOPO’s Thailand project received initial financial support from the Lien Foundation in 2010.

Full accreditation for our newest heroes

Congratulations are in order for five handlers and seven HeroRATs in Mozambique! In order to prepare for their demining work in the real minefields, all of our staff members – both human and rat alike – must pass an official accreditation test from the National Institute of Demining in Mozambique (IND) before they can set foot (or paw) in the minefields.
Recently three of our Tanzanian trainers, and two of our Mozambican trainers, triumphantly passed their National Institute of Demining (IND) accreditation test. Additionally, seven of our HeroRATs (including the ever-popular Ziko) also passed their IND accreditation test, becoming official Mine Detection Rats (MDRs).
Now they can put all of their hard work and training into practice, and enter the real minefields to save lives and limbs! Everyone at APOPO sends their congratulations on passing the test, and wishes the newest additions to the HeroRAT demining team every success in their vital work.

Collaborative action at Skoll World Forum

APOPO’s HeroRATs were represented by our founder, Bart Weetjens, at this year’s Skoll World Forum (SWF) in Oxford, UK, where in 2009 APOPO won the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Each year, SWF social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, academics, and representatives from various governments and industry leaders, come together in Oxford to discuss innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing humanitarian concerns. 
The theme for 2011’s SWF was “Large Scale Change – ecosystems, networks and collaborative action.” In the words of founder Jeff Skoll, who happened to mention APOPO’s “big, big rats” in his opening speech:
“A key imperative of the Skoll World Forum is to cultivate the collaborations and grow the networks that will propel these social entrepreneurs and their innovations to global impact.”
With the Skoll Foundation’s support, our innovative HeroRATs are already making their mark on a global platform. Moving forward, we will continue to focus on inspiring collaborative action that helps to further the reach of our humanitarian efforts and achieve social transformation in the communities we serve.
While at SWF, Bart was interviewed by TrustLaw about the ideas behind APOPO and how our HeroRATs can help to solve pressing humanitarian challenges. TrustLaw compiled Bart’s perspectives, along with snapshots of 10 other ‘big thinkers’ as a way to present the state of social entrepreneurship in 2011. 
To view Bart’s interview, please click here

Trendsetting APOPO at the WCMP

APOPO founder, Bart Weetjens, spread the word about the great work our HeroRATs are doing at the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists (WCMP) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The philosophy of the WCMP is driven by compassion, which is intrinsic in Islamic values. The WCMP envisions a peaceful, equitable and sustainable world, and is committed to advancing effective strategic giving.
Bart was invited to the WCMP to speak at a plenary session on trendsetting humanitarian projects whose audience included leaders in Islamic philanthropy. The main topic of discussion was innovative ideas that can make giving in the Muslim world more effective, by investing in locally generated agendas for inclusive social and environmental change.


On behalf of APOPO and the HeroRATs, thank you for continuing to follow and support us in our efforts to save lives and limbs. We wish you all a wonderful month ahead!

Warm regards,


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A well earned banana!
A well earned banana!

Help HeroRATs on GlobalGiving Bonus Day – March 16, 2011

On March 16, your online donations to the HeroRAT project will be matched by GlobalGiving at 30%.  That’s more bananas for your buck! 

These extra funds mean...

  • More young HeroRATs can be trained to sniff out global problems.
  • More landmines can be removed
  • More tuberculosis patients can be diagnosed.
  • More lives and limbs will be saved!

Once the $75,000 that GlobalGiving has set aside for this event has run out, GlobalGiving will also give a $1,000 bonus to the project that receives the most donations and another $1,000 bonus will go to the project that receives donations from the most individual donors.

So make your contribution count even more on Wednesday, March 16th, and donate at: www.globalgiving.org/projects/herorats/.

Thank you very much for your support!  We truly value your friendship.

Warm regards,

The HeroRAT team



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Haruni with his HeroRAT
Haruni with his HeroRAT

Strategic Planning Week 2011

This month, HeroRAT headquarters in Morogoro, Tanzania, hosted APOPO’s annual Strategic Planning Week.  Every year, APOPO’s management team gathers to assess APOPO’s strengths and opportunities, plan for the years ahead, and identify areas for improvement.  This year, Inge Weber, APOPO’s Secretary General from Belgium, organized and facilitated the meetings. The week brought together APOPO’s management from around the world, including Head of Mine Action and Human Security, Håvard Bach from Switzerland, Mine Action Program Manager, Andrew Sully from Mozambique, and Behavioral Researcher, Dr. Alan Poling from the USA.
Throughout the week, the team reviewed all aspects of our operations and collectively developed action plans to further strengthen APOPO’s capacities.  In particular, the team developed APOPO’s Strategic Goals for 2011-2015, implemented new training procedures to increase our rats’ detection ability in the minefields, prepared for the next stages of our three-year research plan for tuberculosis detection, assessed the feasibility of new applications for our sniffer rats, and brainstormed new fundraising opportunities.  The outcomes of the week will be compiled into a formal report and presented to the APOPO Board at their next board meeting on March 26 in Antwerp, Belgium. 
In addition to the formalized aspects of the meeting, the week also provided a great opportunity for our team members living outside of Tanzania to get to know APOPO’s new team members and trainers in Tanzania who make our life-saving work possible.  With all of APOPO coming together as one, the APOPO community is stronger than ever with a newfound level of excitement for the future.

HeroRAT trainer profile: Haruni Ramadhani
Haruni Ramadhani has been working as a HeroRAT trainer at APOPO’s Tanzanian headquarters since 2004.  Last year, he received the opportunity to travel to Mozambique to be a part of our Mine Action team for six months.  He recently returned with some new perspectives and experiences in working as a humanitarian deminer.
Haruni found the role very challenging, working in a large team of people from different cultures.  He said “you have to relate your work with people, and find out how to work with them.”  Coping with the new language was one of his biggest challenges.
While he had never been to Mozambique before, Haruni read a lot about Mozambique and humanitarian mine action before departing.  He felt it was difficult to compare working with the HeroRATs in the training field to working in the real minefields.  “It’s truly different.  The environment we’re working in is very different, in terms of soil, obstacles.  And it’s too hot!” 
On the other hand, Haruni said it’s not so different working with the rats in the real minefields, “because they find what they are looking for.”
Haruni didn’t feel scared about entering the minefields; he understood the importance of his role and the immense concentration needed.  “You have to know how to use your animals in different situations on the field.”  He went on to explain that “in demining, you have to work with your heart, with your mind.”  A fellow de-miner had summed it up well for him, when he spoke about his brother who had lost a leg from a landmine.  In describing the serious task at hand, he said “demining is not football!”
Although Haruni missed friends and family back in Tanzania, he made new friends in the Mozambique team.  He felt he gained more experience in the real situation, and discovered new tactics to cope with some of the behavioral challenges of working with animals.  “The animals sometimes have a combination of behaviors, in the real situation you have to try to make the combination to work for you, to reach the target.”  He would like to go back to Mozambique one day if he has the opportunity, because he found that there are always new things to learn. 
Back at our Tanzanian headquarters, Haruni splits his time between a supervisory role at the landmine detection training field, and working with our tuberculosis detection HeroRATs.  When asked which area he prefers to work in, Haruni said he liked the variety of being involved in both aspects of APOPO’s work.  “I would say both technologies rather than one!  You face many different challenges and you can get more creative.”
APOPO is very grateful for Haruni’s dedication and hard work, and warmly welcomes him back to HeroRAT HQ in Tanzania!

Newest Additions to APOPO
APOPO is thrilled to welcome the latest additions to the HeroRAT team here in Tanzania:
Amani Mwakalapuka
Amani is a PhD student studying Psychology at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  He joins APOPO to conduct behavioral research to optimize sample presentation in an automated line-cage for our HeroRATs at our tuberculosis detection facility.  Amani received his Master of Arts in Applied Social Psychology from the University of Dar es Salaam. He is currently an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania, and is a founding member of the Tanzanian Psychological Association.
Amy Durgin
Amy joins us from Western Michigan University (WMU) in the USA where she is a PhD candidate studying Applied Behavioral Analysis with our Behavioral Researcher, Dr. Alan Poling.  At APOPO, Amy is working on our Remote Scent Tracing (RST) research to analyze our current rat training procedures and identify targets for improvement, as well as conducting additional behavioral research on our rats' scent detection abilities.  Amy is passionate about behavior analysis and said, “after learning about APOPO’s unique application of behavioral science to save lives through scent detection, I am honored and excited to be part of the APOPO team and see behavioral theory put to great use.”  Prior to joining APOPO, Amy completed her Master of Arts degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis at WMU. She has a great deal of behavioral research experience as a research assistant and organizational consultant.
Amanda Mahoney
Amanda is also a PhD candidate at WMU studying Applied Behavioral Analysis with Dr. Alan Poling.  At APOPO, Amanda is overseeing our tuberculosis detection research plan and analysis of the results.  She will also be conducting behavioral research on the rats’ scent detection abilities.  Before coming to APOPO, Amanda received her Master of Science degree from Northeastern University in the USA and has experience working as a behavior consultant and program manager.  Amanda is very enthusiastic about the work APOPO is doing and said, “I am thrilled to be working for APOPO to apply an innovative strategy in such an important and humanitarian way.”
Majenda Mhutila
In January, Majenda returned to APOPO as our Human Resources Manager for our Tanzanian staff.  In his new role, Majenda will be focusing on developing hiring policies, recruitment of local staff, and motivational techniques.  Majenda previously worked at APOPO for four years as a Research Assistant and General Supervisor before leaving for one year to work for a UK-based healthcare volunteer placement organization.  He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management from Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania.  Majenda is happy to be back and says “APOPO is a great innovative organization.  Working with rats is a great life experience.”  Karibu tena!  (Welcome back!)


As always, thank you very much for your continued support and interest in our life-saving work!

For more information about APOPO and our HeroRATs, please go to our websites, http://www.apopo.org and http://www.herorat.org, or feel free to contact us at our email address below.

Warm regards,
The HeroRAT team


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Love between a HeroRAT and trainer
Love between a HeroRAT and trainer


The HeroRAT team warmly welcomes all of our new found friends and supporters who came on-board throughout 2010.  We are lucky to have an ever-expanding community of amazing individuals who are as committed and passionate as we are about the life-saving work of our HeroRATs

We are most grateful to those of you who continue to share our work with your friends, family or colleagues – you are helping us to change people’s somewhat negative perceptions of rats!  If you haven’t already joined the HeroRAT network, feel free to connect with us via Facebook and Twitter to ask questions, see the latest images from HeroRAT headquarters, and keep up to date with all the latest hero happenings.

We also want to extend a very special thank you to all of our wonderful supporters who made this holiday season the best one in APOPO’s history!  Our HeroRATs were quite the popular gift this year, with 436 new adoptions throughout the month of December.  Not to worry, we have spoken with Chosen One, Kim, Tyson, and Ziko, and they are all up to the challenge of making their adoptive parents proud! 

Thanks to our record number of generous donors and adopters over the holidays, it looks as though 2011 is going to be a massive year for APOPO’s HeroRATs!  


Plans for 2011

APOPO is setting our sights high with some big goals for our HeroRAT teams in 2011. 

In Mozambique, thanks to ongoing support from generous donors around the world, we will continue to stay on track to complete our de-mining operations in the Gaza Province ahead of the 2014 deadline.  

APOPO continues its effort to establish mine action programmes in Angola and Thailand.  Angola is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world and we aim to work with a potential partner organization and to send HeroRAT teams to the Moxico province in 2011. This province is the most mine-affected province in Angola.  In Thailand, APOPO has started preparations for a non-technical survey of two mine-affected provinces along the Cambodian border.  The project is undertaken in close cooperation with Thailand Mine Action Centre (TMAC). The survey will provide a more realistic picture of the real mine problem and will help to focus future mine action efforts in areas that are actually mined while returning areas that prove mine free to the local population.  The two expansions into Angola and Thailand are, however, subject to available funding.

In addition to the daily sniffing activities of our Tuberculosis (TB) detection HeroRAT team in Tanzania, we will also be busy preparing our case findings for future publication in 2011. New research experiments have already begun, with the aim of further validating and optimizing our HeroRATs as a diagnostic method.  In one experiment, our HeroRATs have been sniffing prepared microscope slides of sputum samples – rather than the sample pots we receive initially from collaborating DOTS Centers – and so far, the results are encouraging.

Our Remote Scent Tracing (RST) research will be taking on groundbreaking new applications in 2011.  RST involves taking a sample of air, soil, or other compound, and bringing it to a remote location for evaluation by our trained sniffer rats.  Pending funding, APOPO hopes to begin feasibility studies on the rats’ abilities to detect multiple explosives and salmonella as soon as possible.  


APOPO’s 2009 findings published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

APOPO’s most recent tuberculosis journal article, led by Dr. Alan Poling entitled “Using Giant African Pouched Rats to Detect Tuberculosis in Human Sputum Samples: 2009 Findings” was published in the December edition of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The study presents our results from 2009 using our Gambian pouched rats (affectionately known as HeroRATs) to sniff for mycobacterium tuberculosis in human sputum samples.  That year, out of 10,523 total patients, our rats found an additional 620 TB-positive patients that were previously misdiagnosed as ‘TB-negative’ by the local DOTS centers using smear microscopy.  Thanks to our rats’ identification of these additional patients, the study found that our rats truly are heroes, having increased detection rates in our partnering DOTS centers by 44% in 2009.

Karen Hopkin also presents a summary of the results from this study in her 60-Second Science podcast on the Scientific American website.  Click here to listen!

To date, including data from 2010, APOPO’s HeroRATs have found over 1,600 TB-positive patients that initial smear microscopy missed.  According to estimates from the World Health Organization, this has helped prevent the spread of TB to over 16,000 healthy people. 

We look forward to future success and publications about the great achievements of our Tuberculosis detection HeroRATs and their equally hard-working human colleagues.  


APOPO’s research in New York Times and on the radio

This month, APOPO appeared for a third time in the widely distributed New York Times newspaper. APOPO’s Behavioral Researcher, Dr. Alan Poling, was interviewed for the January 3rd article, “Detecting Tuberculosis: No Microscopes, Just Rats”.  The article reported on APOPO’s findings from the above-mentioned study, led by Dr. Poling, which were published in the December issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

In the article, Dr. Poling expressed one of our hopes for the future. “We think that eventually there will be a place for them in first-line screening.”  Currently, our TB-detection HeroRATs provide second-line screening: they evaluate the sputum samples after they have been checked under microscopy at the hospitals.  However, our rats find 5 – 10 patients on a weekly basis who have been missed by first-round screening.  We believe our furry colleagues are up to the challenge of proving their TB-sniffing capabilities, and hope that HeroRATs will someday become a go-to resource for efficient and effective TB diagnosis.

Dr. Poling was also interviewed by WMUK, a public radio program in Michigan, USA, to talk about APOPO and our HeroRATs.  In the seven-minute news segment, Dr. Poling discussed the landmine and tuberculosis problems in sub-Saharan Africa and how APOPO trains our HeroRATs to help solve these problems. To listen to Dr. Poling’s interview, please click here.


Say “I Love You” with a HeroRAT!

Tired of giving chocolates and roses for Valentine’s Day?  Shake things up this year and show your love by making the world a safer place for your loved one to live in: support a HeroRAT

A contribution to our HeroRATs project on GlobalGiving will support us greatly in our efforts to save lives and limbs by sniffing out more landmines and tuberculosis in communities in need.

Make your contribution in honor of your Valentine and send them a GlobalGiving gift card.  Watch as their face light up when they realize that together, you've helped provide banana treats for one of our life-saving, bomb-sniffing heroes in Mozambique, or tuberculosis screening for villagers in Tanzania.

Alternatively, you could surprise your Valentine with a HeroRAT adoption

Our HeroRATs are more adorable than any teddy bear, they live longer than roses, AND they are helping to save lives and limbs in Tanzania and Mozambique. 

Your loved one will receive a personalized email announcing the gift from you, along with an adoption certificate and letter from his/her adopted hero as well as updates throughout the year.  To give the most unexpected and unique gift this Valentine’s Day, please visit our Adopt-A-Rat page.  

Thanks for your support, and we wish all of you an inspiring and rewarding year ahead!

Warm regards,

The HeroRAT team



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Happy HeroRAT Holidays!
Happy HeroRAT Holidays!

Holiday greetings from the HeroRAT team!

On behalf of all of us at HeroRAT headquarters, we wanted to extend a huge hero-sized thanks to you for following our life-saving work throughout 2010.  We’re so grateful for your ongoing support and appreciation for our heroes. 

It has been a productive year, and our HeroRATs are becoming more known for their sniffing abilities all over the world.  Here are a few highlights from some of the places we’ve appeared throughout the year:

2010 Progress: The Year in Review

The HeroRAT landmine-detection training program is constantly being refined to get our rats hero-ready even faster at our Center of Excellence in Tanzania.  In total, we currently have 195 rats in various stages of landmine detection training or accreditation procedures. 

Our Mozambique Mine Action team has made a huge impact in land clearance this year – with over 792,893 square meters of land returned to the local population!  In doing so, the HeroRAT team has found 860 landmines, 374 unexploded ordinance and 6,216 small arms and ammunitions.  That’s a lot of TNT!  Not only have countless landmine-related accidents been avoided, but barriers restricting development in affected communities have been lifted, and people are free to move about their land without fear.

In Tanzania, our HeroRAT team at the Tuberculosis (TB) detection center has been busy sniffing away to save lives.  In 2010, our TB-detection heroes have so far discovered over 594 TB-positive patients who were initially missed by traditional diagnostic methods.  As a result of these tireless efforts, more patients can begin their life-saving treatment sooner, thus significantly reducing the spread of TB.  In fact, using projections from the World Health Organization, we have helped to prevent at least 5,940 new cases of TB this year alone! 

On a lighter note, our breeding couples have thoroughly enjoyed the improvements that were made to our HeroRAT breeding program earlier this year.  They have shown their appreciation by increasing the number of births this year to 148 baby rats – our future heroes!

We are working on expanding our mine action work into Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, as well as embarking on a new continent – Asia – for initial landmine survey work along the Thai-Cambodian border.  Initial visits by members of the APOPO team have already taken place, in preparation for setting up and getting started in these new countries.

Our Remote Scent Tracing research program will also expand next year to look at other scent detection possibilities.  Our research and development team has a number of new proposals in the pipeline for the many potential applications of this work.  We’ll keep you posted along the way as plans for future applications continue to be developed and refined. 

Our Adopt-a-Rat Program has seen a great deal of support this year, with more and more of you taking action to help us save lives and limbs in communities in need! 

Don’t forget: our deadline for Holiday Gift Adoptions is 18 December, simply to guarantee delivery of your gift recipient’s HeroRAT adoption materials before 25 December.  Of course you are most welcome to adopt one of our HeroRATs anytime after the 18 December, and we’ll send your adoption materials as soon as we can!  Please visit our Adopt-a-Rat webpage for more details, or email the HeroRAT team at herorats@herorat.org.

Thank you so much to all of you who have contributed to our cause throughout 2010: we feel truly honored to have such a warm-hearted and dedicated group of supporters. 

On behalf of APOPO and the HeroRATs, we send you warmest wishes for a safe, happy and peaceful holidays, and a wonderful start to the coming year!

With gratitude,

The HeroRAT team






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Organization Information


Location: Morogoro, Tanzania - Tanzania, United Republic of
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @HeroRATs
Project Leader:
Paul Delbar
Public Fundraising Manager
Sokoine University, Morogoro Tanzania, United Republic of

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Thanks to 4,664 donors like you, a total of $249,508 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving. Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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