HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

by APOPO vzw
Oct 4, 2011

HeroRAT Newsletter - September 2011

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






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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 4,662 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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