HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

by APOPO vzw
Sep 2, 2009

September 2009 Newsletter

- APOPO clears land in Mozambique, giving village of 10,000 access to electricity - Professor Alan Poling joins the APOPO team - APOPO showcases HeroRAT’s ability at Nane-Nane public agricultural fairs - Meet the Board: Josse Van Steinbergen - Special thanks to APOPO TB project volunteer: Wit Davis - Welcome to new HeroRAT volunteer: Kara Schnoes - Support APOPO’s work: Adopt a HeroRAT!

Dear APOPO supporter, I hope this newsletter finds you well. Much has happened this last month including new ideas and people to contribute to our organization. We are looking forward to upcoming changes and growth! Furthermore, this month, 5 rats passed their final tests in landmine detection and 24 patients were detected by our rats after being missed by microscopy in Tuberculosis detection. In this addition of our newsletter, we have some great news from Mozambique! Our work has made it possible to bring electricity to a village of 10,000 people. The public utility company in Mozambique had given up crossing this dangerous minefield, but our HeroRATs and skilled personnel removed 32 dangerous mines to bring light to the village!

We also have some exciting new talent on board! Professor Alan Poling will be joining the APOPO team to improve many of our training and research techniques. Wit Davis, who will be returning home this month, has helped clarify many of our research needs and aided in assessing the accuracy of our Tuberculosis rats. Kara Schnoes has joined us to work in communications on the HeroRAT campaign as well as for our upcoming new websites, and in this issue, you can learn more about long-standing board member Josse Van Steinbergen.

Finally, we had some fun this last month at the annual local Nane-Nane celebration! Our HeroRATs stole the show with their demonstrations and we were able to build our relationship with the community both here in Morogoro and in Dodoma.

In the coming months we hope to announce many more new and exciting initiatives here at APOPO. Again, we thank you for your continued support!

Warm wishes,

The APOPO Team

APOPO clears land in Mozambique giving 10,000 person village access to electricity

APOPO has recently completed clearance of a small minefield at Pfukwe in the district of Mabalane. This was a high priority task, necessary for EDM, the National Electricity Company, to start work connecting the town of Mabalane into the National Grid. The presence of the minefield was causing a significant hazard to the workers and preventing the work from taking place. A survey of the minefield was conducted to establish the extent of the mined area, and in the process revealed the tragedies which had befallen local inhabitants over the years. Within the area, lay scattered skeletal remains of both humans and animals – unsuspecting victims to these deadly legacies of conflict.

APOPO cleared approximately 5000 square meters (100m x 50m) of land, and within this area found 32 anti-personnel mines, of type Gyata and PMN (see picture for example). These are both anti-personnel blast mines, with a high explosive content to weight ratio, causing either immediate death or severe traumatic amputation of a limb, which frequently becomes fatal. Work on the electricity pylons has now resumed and Mabalane should be on the National Electrical Grid within a few months. This work was made possible through the continued support of our donors for 2009; namely the Belgian Government, the Flemish Government and the UNDP.

Professor Alan Poling joins the APOPO team

APOPO is excited to announce the arrival of psychopharmacologist and behavior analyst Alan Poling of Western Michigan University. Professor Poling has published 11 books and more than 250 articles. His work has appeared in 40 different professional journals. He will be working with the APOPO team over the next year to increase our research capacity and to further streamline our training processes. We are happy to have him and look forward to his important contributions! Welcome to the team Alan!

APOPO showcases HeroRAT’s ability at Nane-Nane

Nane-Nane (eight-eight) is a national Tanzanian holiday that happens every year on August 8th. It is meant to celebrate the land and agriculture, but particularly the people who cultivate it. In every city it is a joyous public event in which farmers and craftspeople show-off their finest products in the markets and at the local fair.

This year, APOPO staff Mark, Steven and Majenda set up booths at Nane-Nane fairs both in Morogoro and in Dodoma to exhibit what our HeroRATs can do! It was a great success, attracting crowds of interested on-lookers and demonstrating a unique take on a common farm pest. These exhibitions are an important part of APOPO’s mission to create ownership and awareness within the greater community. Through efforts like these, APOPO continues to be successful at drawing local support and interest!

Meet the Board: Josse Van Steinbergen

Josse Van Steinbergen, studied law and sociology at the University of Louvain and also received his Ph. D in the field of social law. He was a professor of social legislation and policy at the University of Antwerp and lectured at the faculty of law, social sciences, applied economics, and medicine. Josse was also involved in the organization of the law faculty of the University of Rwanda and since 1994 has organized several projects of social policy in South Africa and Mozambique in partnership with colleagues from other universities.

Since 1989, Josse has been the president of Levanto, a social enterprise which attempts to provide employment to long-term unemployed people in the Antwerp region. He is involved in many other social organizations in the field of care, employment, culture and social inclusion and currently, serves as the President of an advisory board on local social policy for the city of Antwerp.

Mic Billet, the chair of the APOPO Board, asked Josse to become a member of the Board the moment APOPO was founded. Josse’s experience as the rector of Antwerp University connected him to a large academic, social and political network in Belgium and his experience with other non-governmental organizations, universities, and relationships with a number of African countries made and continues to make him a great asset to the Board.

“From the very beginning I was enthusiastic about the idea to save lives and physical integrity with the help of biologic sensors and today I am even more convinced of the needs and possibilities of APOPO. From our beginnings as a small initiative of some students and professors, we are now in the process of becoming an international and professional humanitarian social profit organization. It is a real honor to participate in our development and to seek other applications of our technology,” said Josse.

Special thanks to volunteer Wit Davis

Witkind (Wit) Davis has been volunteering for APOPO for the last 3 months as part of her Masters of Public Health coursework in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, USA. Prior to APOPO Wit worked for the International Fund for Animal Welfare responding to international disasters and overseeing scientific documentation and policy development. Wit holds a Masters of Science from the Tufts University of School of Veterinary Medicine and a Bachelors of Science from Bates College and maintains a long-standing commitment to identifying ways where animals and people can improve each other’s health and welfare.

We are grateful for her help over the past several months. Wit has been instrumental in the development of the TB research plan, helping to identify long term research objectives. Furthermore, she made significant progress in analyzing much of the rat’s performance and accuracy as individuals and as groups to optimize APOPO’s success. She has helped us revise our database making it more user-friendly and contributed to our goal of being published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal! Thanks for all your excellent work, Wit! We will wish you all the best in your continued studies and you are welcome back any time!

Welcome to new HeroRAT volunteer Kara Schnoes

Kara Schnoes is delighted to have joined the APOPO team to contribute to the HeroRAT program and improve fundraising and communications for APOPO. She is grateful to be a part of such an exciting and growing organization! Kara graduated from Wesleyan University in 2007 with a degree in Sociology and Environmental Studies and in 2005, she studied abroad in Tanzania. She is happy to have returned to one of her favorite places and is excited to help better the HeroRAT cause!

Support APOPO's Work: Adopt a HeroRAT!

APOPO’s staff and HeroRATS are working hard to save lives and limbs from disaster and disease. Please help us eradicate the dangers posed by landmines and curb the spread of Tuberculosis by making a donation or by adopting a HeroRAT. You can make an online donation through PayPal here or visit Herorat.org to adopt one of our HeroRATS.


We are deeply grateful for your support. If you have any comments or suggestions about the newsletter and how we can improve they are most welcome. Please send to herorats@herorat.org. Thank you!

Disclaimer:The HeroRAT brand (website and associated communications) is a brand of APOPO and is designed to connect the public to the staff, stories, and heart of APOPO. More in depth information about the organization, the science behind rat detection technology, publications, etc can be found on the APOPO website.


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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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