HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

by APOPO vzw
William at the dairy
William at the dairy

The HeroRATs have found over 5,500 TB-positive patients originally misdiagnosed by local hospitals in Tanzania and Mozambique.  Here is one of one their stories, William M.

"I am William. I contracted TB but it was not diagnosed until tested by Apopo HeroRATs.  I work hard at a dairy to pay for my kids' school fees. I have an elderly father and 8 children to look after.  If I am sick, I can't work.  After 3 visits to the clinic without diagnosis, I became sick, thin and very worried.  My workmates became worried of co-infection because we work so closely together. Many of my friends have died from TB, it's devastating."  

"Then the clinic called to say that I had been tested TB positive by rats.  Rats! We can hardly believe it.  If the HeroRATs had not diagnosed my TB, I think I would be dead by now."

William's wife Esther says "I am very relieved that the Apopo rats found William's TB. Now he is on the mend."

From William and everyone at APOPO, thank you to all the GlobalGiving supporters we have made thousands of stories like this come true!

William and his family
William and his family
William is now healthy!
William is now healthy!
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

Dear APOPO Supporters,

As a donor to APOPO and GlobalGiving, we want to thank you for your support and wish you a very Happy New Year and all the best wishes in 2014!  

A quick program update on APOPO’s performance: the HeroRATs and their human colleagues continue to work hard everyday, clearing over 8 million square meters of land in Mozambique, destroying over 2,700 landmines, and detecting over 4,700 TB patients misdiagnosed by local hospitals in Tanzania and Mozambique.  

We are going to Cambodia!  In late November, APOPO signed an agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia to clear landmines in Cambodia, and the HeroRATs are going to be part of this! 

APOPO and the HeroRATs are proud to have recently launched myapopo.org!  Under the direct supervision of the HeroRATs, the APOPO humans have been working hard to improve the donor experience to be a lot more fun!  At myapopo.org, donors can adopt a baby HeroRAT that they can name themselves.  Then guide its growth, development, and choose whether it detects landmines or tuberculosis patients.   The many benefits of adopting include: an adoption certificate, frequent updates on your personalized myapopo wall, fun and interesting stories, nice pictures, fun avatars and badges, social media sharing, and seeing your HeroRAT's impact after graduation.  

As a current or former donor through GlobalGiving, you are entitled to the benefits on www.myapopo.org.  If you wish be part of the fun experience, send an email to herorats@apopo.org.

Full Cheeks Friday Celebration
Full Cheeks Friday Celebration

Greetings friends,

Since 2008, APOPO’s HeroRATs have been a part of the GlobalGiving community. We’ve shared our triumphs, challenges, and achievements; we’ve celebrated Bonus Days, Father’s Days, and the holidays. We've been truly honored to have your help along the way. And now, we’re very excited to announce that our project, “HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis” is only a sniff away from being fully funded!

Thanks to your generous support, our GlobalGiving project has raised $248,830. That’s a lot of banana treats for the HeroRATs, and it wouldn’t have been possible without you: our 4,671 loyal friends and fans. Because you believed in our cause and were moved to help our heroes, APOPO has grown. Together, we have ensured the release of millions of feet of mine-free land to communities in Mozambique, significantly increased new TB case findings in Tanzania, and extended the reach of our life-saving efforts in new regions.

While we’re celebrating the completion of one project on GlobalGiving, we’re also excited to present a brand-new project page for our supporters: "Train HeroRATs for Life-Saving Detection Missions".

A hero’s work is never done, and this project is the new home for the same life-saving HeroRATs on GlobalGiving. We’d like to invite you to join us there for ongoing Project Reports on our work, as well as up-to-date information, fun photos, and new donation options that go towards supporting all aspects of HeroRAT-hood!

We hope you’ll continue with us on our life-saving journey, as we “Train HeroRATs for Life-Saving Detection Missions!”

With gRATitude,

The HeroRAT Team





Rat and trainer
Rat and trainer

Curbing the spread of TB, one sniff at a time

Our Tuberculosis (TB) Detection Program, based in Tanzania, continues to slow the spread of TB thanks to the efforts of our human and rat staff. Our HeroRATs’ effectiveness in rapidly screening large populations is undeniable – in the month of August alone, our rats served as a second-line screen for 1,324 patients. Of these, 280 patients were already found to be TB-positive by a partner treatment center. While sniffing the sputum samples provided by the patients, the rats located an additional 30 new cases of TB that had been missed using standard microscopy, enabling these patients to be accurately diagnosed and begin life-saving treatment.

Our TB Detection Center has also been making progress in the use of the new automated line cage, which was received in July. It links up to a laptop computer and accurately measures and rewards the rats’ indications with an optical sensor.  This avoids human influence but also makes the training process more precise. Rats have taken this high-tech cage for a spin, and four of our youngest TB-detecting rats have begun training in it exclusively. If training in this new set-up continues to go smoothly, APOPO’s TB Detection Program might transition to working only with automated cages.

To learn more about our HeroRATs’ fight against this deadly killer, please visit the Tuberculosis Detection page of our website!


HeroRATs star on Discovery Canada’s Daily Planet

On September 15, audiences of Discovery Canada’s Daily Planet were treated to an in-depth look at the work of APOPO and the HeroRATs. The segment was featured as part of the program’s “The World is Just Awesome Week,” and saw the rats sniffing and scratching their way across the small screen while interviews with behavioral researcher Dr. Alan Poling and HeroRAT trainer John Fidelis informed the public about our work.

Over 267,000 viewers tuned in to see our rats in their element, working to rid the world of landmines and tuberculosis. The segment went a long way in showing the world that rats are not the creepy creatures some people may think they are.

As Dr. Poling explains, “A lot of people think rats are naturally bad, but rats are like people – whether they are good or bad depends on what they learn to do. And we try to teach our rats to do good things.”

In case you missed the episode and would like to see some spectacular footage of our rats learning to do some (very) good things, we’ve uploaded it to our Video page here.


Ashoka team visits HeroRAT HQ in Tanzania

Earlier in the month, APOPO was honored to host a visit from two members of Ashoka’s team. Valeria Merino, Ashoka’s VP for Venture, Fellowship, and Integration, paid a visit to our Tanzanian headquarters with Simon Stumpf, Senior Change Manager for Rural Innovation and Farming for Ashoka East Africa.

Ashoka is a global organization that supports leading social entrepreneurs like Bart. In introducing the work of Ashoka to diverse audiences worldwide, Valeria and her colleagues commonly use a slideshow, which features examples of the innovative social impact of their Fellows – including information on APOPO! It was after Bart saw his own HeroRATs on the big screen at a global event in Paris in June that he invited Valeria and the Ashoka team to come nose-to-nose with our rats.

Throughout their visit, Valeria and Simon were able to view firsthand the innovation that led to Bart’s selection as an Ashoka Fellow in 2006. In addition, they visited several departments of Sokoine University of Agriculture, a top agricultural university in Africa where APOPO is based. While at SUA, they had the opportunity to meet with other researchers and innovators working in the fields of agriculture and rural innovation.

APOPO and Ashoka have enjoyed five years of dynamic partnership, with Ashoka providing a great platform to spread the word about APOPO to a large community of innovators, social entrepreneurs, volunteers, and changemakers. We look forward to continuing a long and productive relationship with Ashoka and welcome them back to Tanzania anytime – karibuni tena, Valeria and Simon!

Welcome to our newest Corporate Sponsors!

We’re proud to announce that our HeroRAT Corporate Sponsorship Program is growing – and we are excited to introduce our newest sponsors! For those who are not familiar with the program, our Corporate Sponsors provide vital support to APOPO by funding the entire training costs of a HeroRAT. For 6,000 €, they cover everything from their rat’s food, to veterinary care, to the clay pots in which their rat curls up to sleep – and of course, unlimited banana treats throughout the course of training! Sponsors also obtain the exclusive opportunity to name their very own rat and receive personalized updates as their rat progresses in its training.

Earlier this quarter, we welcomed Belgium-based Rotary Club, Rotary Antwerpen Oost, to the Corporate Sponsorship program. The club is now the proud sponsor of “Rotarat,” who recently began training to become a Mine Detection Rat! We really appreciate the club’s ongoing support of APOPO.

We would also like to welcome and congratulate HeroRAT supporters Tom Kindermans and Petra Faltysova, who sponsored the full training of their own HeroRAT by collecting donations for their wedding in August. Their young rat, “PetRATom,” has also just begun mine detection training. On their desire to fundraise for APOPO on their wedding day, Tom said “We carry the HeroRAT organization in our heart!”

Many thanks to our new Corporate Sponsors as their young rats embark on their life-saving journeys!


A conversation with APOPO’s founder on ABC Radio

Listeners of ABC Radio’s Sunday morning program in Melbourne, Australia, recently had the opportunity to hear a conversation with APOPO’s founder, Bart Weetjens. #mce_temp_url#Host Alan Brough delved into the origins of Bart's fascination with the African continent, and how the idea of training rats to sniff out landmines originally came about.

If you missed the program and would like to learn more about APOPO’s history, click here to listen


UN International School promotes peace through our heroes

APOPO, on behalf of the HeroRATs, is especially grateful to the United Nations International School (UNIS) in New York City. Socially conscious and on a mission to promote peace, students chose to support HeroRATs as a like-minded recipient of their fundraising efforts! Pictured here are two representatives of the Middle School Student Council, Sahil Patel and Sarah Blau, and here’s what Sahil had to say about the students’ decision to support our heroes:

“The Middle School Student Council at the United Nations International School raised $1,000 for HeroRAT. We chose your charity because UNIS is a school of peace and HeroRAT strives to create a peaceful environment in many countries by detecting and removing landmines. During the year, we organized dances and fundraisers. We sold chocolate roses for Friendship Day and set up environmental activities for Earth Day. It was lots of fun and for such a good cause.”

APOPO sends our thanks and congratulations to the UNIS students for their incredible achievement and dedication in advocating for a more peaceful world.


Poverty Matters: Development in a changing world

Looking for more inspired reading on innovation? Check out Louise Stoddard’s latest post on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog, centered around the recent development conference organized by the Development Studies Association (DSA) and the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI).

Louise notes the need for the development community to adapt to a changing world, and think outside the box in coming up with innovative solutions for the world’s big problems. Among the projects mentioned, APOPO makes an appearance as an initiative that “typifies the creative nature of modern development.” Read the full post here.


Thank you for following us in our life-saving adventures, and we wish you an inspired month ahead!

Warm regards,

The HeroRAT team





Selemani and Abdullah
Selemani and Abdullah

2.6 million meters cleared & counting! 

APOPO’s Mine Action team in Mozambique has ensured the safe return of over 2.6 million square meters of land to date. With the ongoing clearance and release of safe land, a sense of freedom is given back to communities affected by the landmine problem. Families can live on their land again and farm without fear of injury; children can walk safely to school; and community development through agricultural or infrastructure projects is made possible. 

This year, our Mine Action team has already cleared 530,160 square meters of land in the Gaza Province, unearthing 554 landmines, 208 unexploded ordnances and 1,852 small arms and ammunitions in the process. These items have now been destroyed, so no further harm can be caused to innocent civilians living or passing through the mine-affected areas. Find out more about APOPO’s humanitarian demining efforts: check out the Mine Action page of our website. 


A new addition to our Mine Action team

Tesfazghi Tewelde (or Tess, for short) recently landed in Mozambique to take up the role of Program Manager for our Mine Action Program. "I'm very impressed by the extraordinary work APOPO has achieved so far, and the commitment of APOPO in expanding its capacity and productivity to help Mozambique become mine free by 2014," Tess said upon arrival.

The new manager was warmly welcomed at a team-building barbecue, where he emphasized the importance of fostering a healthy team spirit. “Bringing staff together is very important in mine action…due to the size of the operation, and all the different people living and working in one place.”

Before joining APOPO, Tess worked for the operations section of the Geneva International Center of Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), and contributed his technical field experience to the land release methodology. Tess brings to our team 11 years of experience in Mine Action operations in Africa, in both humanitarian and commercial sectors. Welcome to the team, Tess!

Making the move: Mozambique to Thailand

Andrew Sully, our previous Mozambique Program Manager, made the move to Thailand last month to lead the APOPO-PRO Mine Action team in our survey project along the Thai-Cambodia border. Reflecting on the move, Andrew said: “I was sad to leave Mozambique and the people I had known and worked with for three years. So much excellent work and growth had happened during that time, and there still remains so much to do.” What made the move easier was knowing that the program would be in excellent hands with Tess.

Compared with Mozambique, Thailand is a real change for Andrew. While being more advanced in areas such as infrastructure and technology, Thailand’s mine action effort is only just beginning. “Many years with very limited funding have meant that they have been trying to do it on their own, and the result is the very traditional approach,” he said. “This approach needs to be replaced with the Land Release methodology, and this is what APOPO brings with its Mine Action Program.”

This new approach to Thailand’s landmine problem could drastically shorten the lifespan of the remaining minefields and increase the number of cleared mines. It also opens an avenue to encourage more funds, both internal and external, to be spent on solving the landmine problem in Thailand. “It’s an exciting project, as it can make a real difference to Mine Action in Thailand, as well as strongly influence the neighbouring countries,” Andrew said.
The APOPO-PRO team is already making great progress in Trat province, having found more than 140 anti-personnel mines (as well as one anti-tank mine, and 168 explosive remnants of war) during the first seven weeks of non-technical and technical survey. To learn more about APOPO's Mine Action efforts in Thailand, click here.


HeroRATs steal the show at Nane Nane

Each year, all of Tanzania comes together for a week of festivities in honor of “Nane Nane,” a vibrant celebration of agriculture held in the cities of Morogoro and Dodoma. The revelry concludes annually on the eighth day of the eighth month (the name “Nane Nane” itself means “Eight Eight” in Swahili), when farmers, businesses, NGOs, and the general public flock to the local fairgrounds.

APOPO and the HeroRATs joined in the fun as part of the display put together by our partner institution, Sokoine University of Agriculture. Throughout the course of the week, trainers Haruni and John demonstrated the amazing capabilities of our detection rats to intrigued and astonished crowds. Lucky visitors to APOPO’s display were able to witness a mock training session, with one of our rats showing off her detection expertise as she walked along, sniffing out (and digging up) tea eggs filled with TNT.

With hundreds of spectators stopping by to check out our work for themselves, the HeroRATs certainly enjoyed their time in the spotlight and can’t wait for next year’s Nane Nane fair! 


Selemani & Abdullah: Looking back

HeroRAT trainers Selemani and Abdullah have each been working with APOPO for nearly nine years, and have helped us expand while remaining committed to APOPO’s mission. They also share the distinction of being the first Tanzanian trainers to enter the real minefields in Mozambique with their HeroRATs!

When they took on the role of humanitarian deminers in 2003, they were conscious of how important it was, and came to Mozambique feeling both confident and anxious. Selemani remembers, “It was like a dream come true. It was an historic event, because we were the first Tanzanians to enter the real minefields in Mozambique!” Abdullah adds, “I was happy, but it was my first time out of my country, so I was also afraid. There was pressure to show the rats to the world, but because we received training and followed procedures, we became comfortable.”

Along with learning a new language and being far from friends and family, the pair also faced the challenge of preparing themselves to finally enter the real minefields with the HeroRATs – a tough task even after years of training. “When we arrived, we attended a course in mine detection principles and techniques,” Selemani says. “We were shown how mines killed people – we even saw skeletons in the minefields, and old bones with military clothing. It made us afraid, but it didn’t stop us.”

Their determination paid off: on the very first day, the team of trainers and HeroRATs found 10 landmines!
Almost eight years on, Selemani and Abdullah have grown with APOPO and watched the organization grow – and have a few words of advice for HeroRAT trainers who might want to follow in their (careful) footsteps to the minefields in Mozambique. “Our work needs concentration. It needs focus,” says Abdullah. “We need to be cooperative with each other and help each other, because at APOPO, we are all like family.”


Subiaco Rotaract Club goes wild for HeroRATs

On the evening of August 12, more than 200 revelers joined the Rotaract Club of Subiaco in Western Australia for a fantastically fierce fundraiser in honor of – you guessed it – the HeroRATs! As Rotaract is a Rotary-sponsored organization designed for service-oriented young men and women, club members in Subiaco decided to put their principles into action by throwing a great party for a great cause.

The night’s theme of “Urban Jungle” was made complete by a strictly wild dress code and six live performances, including a fire performance troupe, African dancers and drummers, and Brazilian samba dancers. Among the creatively decked-out attendees were safari-goers mingling with animals from the African savanna, adventurers, warriors, and even a giant banana treat (the perfect costume for our HeroRATs)!

In between the performances, club Community Services Director Choy Lin Lee took to the stage to present a slideshow describing the work of APOPO. The untamed enthusiasm of the club and their guests certainly paid off: in total, the Urban Jungle fundraiser raised more than $4,200 for the HeroRATs.

APOPO would like to thank the Rotaract Club of Subiaco for their amazing efforts on our behalf! Be sure to check out the club’s blog post about the fundraiser and spectacular photos by photographer Emiko Watanabe, and read why they chose to support the HeroRATs.

Have you been inspired with a creative initiative of your own? Check out our website for ways to get involved or contact us to share your fundraising ideas.


Every voice counts for GlobalGiving

Our friends at GlobalGiving are working on an exciting new initiative here in East Africa, known as the Storytelling Project: an experiment in collecting community knowledge on a massive scale, and feeding it back to audiences that can use it. Over 20,000 stories have already been collected from 6,000+ community members by asking this simple question: "Tell us about a time when a person or an organization tried to change something in your community." 

The project will soon make its way to Tanzania, and we’re looking forward to hearing stories from our local community about the challenges and the changemakers – and using these insights to create better links between the two. Find out more about the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project here.


Join our online community!

Can’t get enough of the HeroRATs through our website or newsletter? Want to learn more about our rats and the global challenges they’re helping to solve? Join our online community of fans, friends and supporters! By following our rat-tweets on Twitter, and “Liking” our hero fan page on Facebook, you’ll be able to easily see (and share!) all of the latest updates, news, pictures, and videos of APOPO and the HeroRATs. Whether you’re familiar with the humanitarian work we do, or just stopping by for a look at our brave heroes, we’d love to have you join the conversation. Be sure to invite your friends, too! 

Until next month, we send our sincere gratitude for your ongoing support of our heroes!


Warm regards,

The HeroRAT Team






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Organization Information


Location: Morogoro, Tanzania - Tanzania, United Republic of
Website: http:/​/​www.apopo.org
Project Leader:
Paul Delbar
Public Fundraising Manager
Sokoine University, Morogoro Tanzania, United Republic of

Funded Project!

Thanks to 4,662 donors like you, a total of $250,162 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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