HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

by APOPO vzw
Jul 11, 2011

HeroRAT Newsletter - June 2011


Launch of our new website

The HeroRATs have a new home online! We recently merged our two websites (APOPO.org and HeroRAT.org) to become one because APOPO trains HeroRATs to save lives. We are one team, working together to inspire positive social change – so we belong together on one website! 

Here we hope you will find everything you need to know about APOPO and the HeroRATs, and how you can take action to help us in our life-saving mission. If you have any questions or feedback about the new site, please feel free to contact the team at HeroRAT headquarters via email:herorats@apopo.org

Enjoy exploring our new site: www.apopo.org!

APOPO honored with a visit of royalty
On June 5, APOPO was delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid of Belgium to our headquarters in Morogoro, Tanzania, followed by our Mine Action Program in Mozambique. Princess Astrid became the Honorary President of APOPO in 2009 and has supported APOPO’s endeavours towards a better future for communities affected by landmines and tuberculosis.
The Princess made an early-morning visit to our landmine detection training field, and was intrigued to watch the simple, yet effective methods APOPO uses to transform African giant pouched rats into life-saving HeroRATs. While there, Princess Astrid met one of our HeroRATs in training, patting its fur and feeding it a banana reward for its landmine-sniffing success.
Her Royal Highness also spent time at APOPO’s Tuberculosis Detection Center, taking a tour through the laboratory and watching in fascination as our TB detection rats sniffed rows of sputum samples and correctly identified those that were TB-positive. Throughout the day, APOPO staff members were excited to have the opportunity to meet the Princess, and share their experiences and work with her. Before leaving Tanzania to go to our program in Mozambique, Her Royal Highness was also invited to visit State House to meet with His Excellency, Dr Jakaya Kikwete, President of Tanzania.
Following her arrival in Mozambique, Princess Astrid took her first steps in the real minefields at APOPO’s operations in the Gaza Province, to see our Mine Action team at work. Although a bit nervous, Princess Astrid was reassured by our experienced team of humanitarian de-miners. In addition to trying on the heavy de-mining protective wear, the Princess was impressed by finally seeing APOPO’s trained HeroRATs using their skills in the real minefields. 
Her Royal Highness’s visit to our programs further confirmed her commitment to APOPO’s life-saving mission. Reflecting on her trip, Princess Astrid said: “My visit to Morogoro and Chokwe was in many ways an unforgettable experience. It even helped me to overcome my fear of rats, because they are obviously man’s best friend when it comes to saving lives from anti-personnel mines or tuberculosis.”
APOPO is grateful to Her Royal Highness and all of the delegation, for taking the time to understand and raise awareness of the issues behind this vital and life-saving work.

Mozambique Mine Action update 
Our Mozambique Mine Action team continues to achieve great results, as our HeroRATs spend their days diligently sniffing out landmines and explosives. Now halfway through 2011, we can report that APOPO’s team has uncovered 395 landmines since the beginning of the year – and released over 356,507 square meters of mine-free land! That brings the grand total to over 2.4 million square meters released as a result of our mine action efforts.
In order to increase this productivity even more, 20 fresh graduates from our HeroRAT training program arrived in Mozambique this month, and are now acclimatizing as they gear up for the ultimate test – external accreditation as official Mine Detection Rats with the National Institute of Demining (IND).

HeroRAT Trainer Profile: Fidelis
All of APOPO’s trainers bring enthusiasm and unique perspectives to their jobs, and Fidelis is no exception: before joining APOPO in 2010, he spent four years working with the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), previously located here in Morogoro. Like APOPO, NPA worked with trained animals to locate explosives as part of a Remote Scent Tracing research program – but in their case, they used dogs. As a trainer for the NPA, Fidelis became well acquainted not only with the humanitarian issue of landmine removal, but also with training animals to achieve that goal.
When the NPA closed its doors in Morogoro in 2010 (don’t worry, the dogs were safely escorted to the police department in Dar es Salaam), the doors at APOPO opened for Fidelis. He began working that same year as a trainer for our HeroRATs. 
Fidelis admits that there are a lot of differences between working with dogs and rats - and that each species has its challenges. “Dogs are big – it’s very physical work. It’s more relaxed working with rats, and their behavior is quite different,” he explains. Still, Fidelis doesn’t prefer one species to the other. Instead, he believes that having experience with both animals is what makes him a good trainer. “With both species, you have problems that you need to find and manage,” he explains. “When you can do that, you can call yourself a good trainer.”
As a trainer, his versatility doesn’t stop at the species he’s able to care for – Fidelis also splits his time between our landmine detection rats and TB detection rats. He’s happy with both aspects of the work, he says, because either way, “we are working to serve people and to prolong life – and that is a good thing.”
Fidelis’ humanitarian background as an animal trainer makes him a great member of the team here at APOPO, and he’s glad to bring his expertise to the table. As he says, “To train animals to do what you want is brilliant – and with the rats, anything is possible!”

On the Up team profiles APOPO’s founder

On June 15th, APOPO and the HeroRATs welcomed intrepid social entrepreneurs, Rob and Nikki Wilson, to our headquarters in Tanzania. The couple is making their way up the east coast of Africa, from Cape Town to Cairo, on a fascinating journey they’re calling “ On the Up.”

Their ultimate goal is to profile some of Africa’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs, whom they plan to feature in a forthcoming book aimed at the next generation of aspiring young change makers. Naturally, they couldn’t pass up a chance to speak with our founder Bart Weetjens, to meet our HeroRATs, and see them in action!
Check out On the Up’s interview with Bart, or read the blog post on their visit to APOPO, Giant Rats to the Rescue.
To follow Rob and Nikki’s adventures, and read about the amazing people (and rats!) they are meeting along the way, visit their website or join their Facebook following.

Thailand Mine Action update

APOPO’s newly established project in Thailand, conducting non-technical and technical survey along the border to Cambodia, is already making a significant contribution. The Thailand Mine Action Centre (TMAC) is very concerned about the country’s exaggerated mine problem due to inflated survey information and has thus invited APOPO to assist with the development of their Land Release methodology and relevant National Mine Action Standard (NMAS).

APOPO is providing support to Norwegian People’s AID (NPA) who has been assisting TMAC with the development of further NMAS. In May, APOPO conducted a four-day training workshop on ‘Land Release’ for TMAC staff, Humanitarian Mine Action Units (HMAUs) and other NGO partners. The event was hosted by TMAC at their premises in Bangkok, and was conducted in parallel to APOPO’s training of its own staff prior to the deployment of survey teams into the field for operations.

APOPO has entered a partnership with a local NGO in Thailand, Peace Road Organisation (PRO). Together, APOPO and PRO have recruited 23 local staff and will have three Non-Technical Survey teams and two Technical Survey teams operational from June 2011, following the four-week training program. Practical training will continue out in the field, and the teams’ progress will be monitored throughout the duration of operations.

For more information on our Thailand Mine Action Program, please contact APOPO’s Head of Mine Action, Håvard Bach.
GlobalGiving helps our heroes for Father’s Day 
Our project on GlobalGiving has received a much-needed boost in funds for the HeroRATs, in the few days leading up to Father’s Day in the US and UK on 19th June. The incredible team at GlobalGiving featured our heroes in a special edition of their newsletter, suggesting people “Honor Dad: Feed a Rat” instead of buying gifts. As a result, over $15,000 USD was donated via GlobalGiving in dads’ honor!
This is a real testament to the power of the GlobalGiving community, inspiring social change by providing support to the featured projects & their innovative solutions to global problems. Thank you, GlobalGiving!


On behalf of APOPO and the HeroRATs, we appreciate your continued interest and support of our work, as we strive to save more lives and limbs!



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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

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Thanks to 4,673 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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