HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

by APOPO vzw
Aug 2, 2011

HeroRAT Newsletter - July 2011

TB Detection Program progress
Our Tuberculosis Detection Center here in Tanzania continues to make great progress – proving that our HeroRATs’ skill at saving lives is nothing to sniff at. Last month, our rats discovered 42 new TB-positive patients who had been incorrectly identified as TB-negative using standard microscopy. To date, our HeroRATs have helped to diagnose over 2,209 TB-positive patients who were previously missed by microscopy – potentially preventing at least 22,000 new infections!
The results of APOPO’s TB research throughout 2010 were recently published in the Pan African Medical Journal, in an article titled “Using giant African pouched rats to detect tuberculosis in human sputum samples: 2010 findings”. You can read it here.
In an exciting technological acquisition, the TB detection center recently began working with a new automated line cage. The principle of detecting tuberculosis is the same – our HeroRATs run along the length of the cage, sniffing patients’ sputum samples placed underneath each of ten holes, and indicating if they smell TB by holding their noses in the sample hole and scratching at the surface.
What makes this new cage different is that an invisible laser runs along beneath the holes, into which a rat must keep its nose for a predetermined amount of time. If successful, the cage automatically sounds a ‘click’ and releases a food reward for the rat. The new design will eliminate the possibility of human influence or error measuring the rats’ indications, and five young rats have already begun to train inside the automated line cage.
We hope the winning combination of our rats and this new technology will help us in the fight to reduce the spread of this deadly disease!

APOPO nominated for a Katerva Award
The APOPO team is proud to announce that our work has been nominated for a Katerva Award! Katerva, a charity organization registered in the United Kingdom, focuses on creating solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing society by showcasing some of the world’s most innovative organizations – and through building a community of social change advocates. Katerva’s annual awards provide recognition to what they deem “the very best sustainability initiatives on the planet.”
APOPO joins a diverse group of organizations and initiatives that have been nominated for an award in one of Katerva’s 10 categories, which include Behavioral Change, Economy, Energy & Power, Food Security, Protected Areas, Gender Equality, Human Development, Materials & Resources, Transportation, and Urban Design. A winner will be selected in each of the 10 categories, and a grand prize winner will be announced at a gala event in New York City’s Lincoln Center on 7 December, 2011.
The judging process is rigorous: after being nominated, each nominee must pass through six evaluation phases, during which a team of researchers and experts will determine the feasibility, scalability, originality, and impact of the organization and their work. Ultimately, Katerva seeks to “shine a global spotlight on the ideas and innovations by which we will live sustainably within the planet and help them grow and refine themselves.”
We’re excited to be included among such an extraordinary group of nominees – you can learn more about them, and about Katerva, at www.katerva.org. Wish us luck as we move forward in the judging phases!

TIB MOLBIOL sponsors eight new HeroRATs
APOPO and the HeroRATs would like to give a giant welcome and very special thank you to our newest corporate sponsor, TIB MOLBIOL! The Berlin-based company has generously offered to sponsor the training of eight new HeroRATs. Thanks to their support, the nine-month training journey of these eight young heroes will be fully covered. This includes expenses such as food and housing, veterinary care, transport, trainer’s salary, and beyond. With TIB MOLBIOL taking care of these important costs, APOPO has more funds to devote to our operational programs in landmine andtuberculosis detection – programs that these eight young rats will soon be a part of!
If your organization would like to learn more about supporting a HeroRAT throughout its entire training (and earning the exclusive opportunity to name your own rat!), please visit the Corporate Sponsorship page of our website.

TMAC visits APOPO-PRO operations in Trat

Between 20 - 22 July, TMAC (Thailand Mine Action Center) invited representatives from the Thai Government, as well as other guests and media, to visit APOPO-PRO’s field operations in the province of Trat. APOPO-PRO – a partnership between APOPO and the Thai NGO, Peace Road Organization – launched a non-technical and technical survey in Trat at the end of June, with the goal of completing a resurvey of 81 Suspected Hazardous Areas (SHAs). This will be followed by a resurvey of 29 SHAs in the neighboring province of Chantaburi. The surveys aim to accurately determine how much land needs to be cleared of mines, and which areas are actually already mine-free and can be released to the public.
Over the course of two days, APOPO-PRO and TMAC welcomed representatives from several departments of the Thai Government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and were also joined by members of the Thai press, PRO’s Board, and local organizations TDA (Thai Civilian Deminer Association) and MOM (Mekong Organization for Mankind). APOPO-PRO presented and demonstrated both their survey and Land Release methodology, including a new system for land classification. There was a broad consensus about the utility of APOPO-PRO’s approach to Thailand’s extensive landmine problem along its border with Cambodia.
APOPO hopes to expand its mine action program in the region in 2012, provided sufficient funding is secured. This expansion would include both survey and clearance activities in Thailand and Cambodia. 
HeroRAT team handover

In June, we welcomed a new volunteer, Jessica Silber (pictured), to the HeroRAT team to take up the role of Communications Coordinator and assist in the management of our Adopt-a-Rat program. Here’s what Jess had to say upon arrival at APOPO:
“I’m excited to join APOPO as the new Communications Coordinator, and I’m thrilled to be involved in this important work! I graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, a background in communications, and an interest in international development. APOPO is a truly innovative and exciting organization to be a part of, and I’m looking forward to building even more public support for the HeroRATs.”
APOPO wishes to express our gratitude to outgoing Communications Coordinator, Felicia Byrne, who has been an integral part of the HeroRAT team for the past year. During her time at APOPO, Felicia helped tremendously in streamlining the procedures of our Adopt-a-Rat program, expanding our supporter base, and keeping the public up-to-date on everyday HeroRAT happenings. We will miss her around HQ but wish her every success in the next chapter of her career. Asante sana and kwaheri, Felicia!


At the end of another month, we are pleased to report that our  Mozambique Mine Action team has now cleared more than 423,106 square meters of land this year! These latest clearance figures bring us to a grand total of 2.5 million square meters of suspected minefields, cleared and returned the local population in Mozambique.

Thank you for following our life-saving efforts, and we hope you enjoy the month ahead!

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

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