HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

by APOPO vzw
Oct 12, 2010

September 2010 Newsletter

HeroRAT trainer Niko with Green Apple
HeroRAT trainer Niko with Green Apple

HeroRATs making headlines: CNN World & Inside Africa

On 8 September, our HeroRATs were on display on computer screens around the world, when Eliott C. McLaughlin’s article ‘Giant rats put noses to work on Africa’s landmine epidemic’ was published online and became the lead story on the CNN homepage shortly after.

In researching our story, Eliott took the time to speak with HeroRAT Training Supervisor Niko Mushi (pictured left), Founder Bart Weetjens, and Havard Bach, Head of Operations for Mine Action & Human Security. The result was
an engaging story that highlighted what our HeroRATs can do, and the experiences of humans working alongside them.

"I was amazed that rats could do such a thing," Niko said, explaining his initial doubts about the rats’ abilities to pinpoint the exact location of landmines. Bart provided his personal account of the early stages in getting APOPO off
the ground, while Havard contributed to the factual content of the article with his many years of experience and knowledge of the landmine problem.

The article made it to the Top 5 most popular stories for the day on CNN, and has attracted over 10,400 recommendations on Facebook. There was also a steady stream of comments, blogs and tweets to follow, from people who read our story and felt compelled to share it further. The response was so wonderful that Inside Africa decided to include a news report on HeroRATs in their weekly program.

On behalf of the HeroRATs, thank you to everyone who put time and effort into telling, reading, or sharing our story. We are so grateful for your belief in our life-saving work.

WEF Annual Meeting of the New Champions in China

As part of the “Summer Davos” series in Asia, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions took place in Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, from 13-15 September. The theme of the meeting was ‘Driving Growth through Sustainability’ and many of Schwab Foundation’s social entrepreneurs, including APOPO’s Founder, Bart Weetjens, took part in the sessions. Bart was honored with an invitation to participate in a special task force on social investment, in an effort to have more social entrepreneurs playing key roles within the WEF community.

The sessions also involved many of the Young Global Leaders network, and members of the Global Young Academy, a dynamic network of young researchers and scientists that APOPO’s Analytical Chemist, Dr Negussie Beyene, is part of. These communities will play important roles in future collaborative action on a number of topics raised during the meetings.

Webcasts from the event can be viewed here, or for more details on the positive outcomes of these sessions, check out the WEF blog from Schwab Foundation’s Head and Senior Director, Mirjam Schöning, 'Accomplishing Great Things Together'.

Lightning-quick HeroRATs are the talk of the town

Muhimbili Medical Research Centre held an Open Day recently to mark the 30th anniversary of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), one of APOPO’s research partners. Our tuberculosis (TB) detecting HeroRATs were delighted to be among those invited, and gave a demonstration of their sniffing skills for a captive audience.

Maureen Jubitana, APOPO’s TB detection training supervisor, was there to answer many of the questions asked about APOPO’s work, along with two of our HeroRAT trainers Said and Rajabu who showed exactly what their young charges are capable of! Georgies Mgode, a researcher who is working with APOPO to find the specific compound in tuberculosis that our rats are identifying, was also there to explain the progress of APOPO’s experiments and research findings to date.

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare Director of Preventive Services, Dr Donan Mmbando, was impressed with the research and work being done to curb the spread of TB in Tanzania.

New experiments are being commenced at APOPO’s TB detection center, which will directly compare the rats to more traditional screening methods. The result of this will be a detailed comparison of the costs involved, the efficiency and effectiveness of the rats as a diagnostic tool. This next important stage of our research will provide useful information in planning a pilot implementation program for communities affected by TB.

Leaving the world a better place

This month, we welcomed Patrice Macar and Dirk Vercoutter of Testament.be to our headquarters in Tanzania, to see firsthand the impact of APOPO’s work, as an organization they support. Testament.be is a campaign that was launched in Belgium by 70 social organizations aiming to provide people with more information about the possibility of including worthwhile non-profit causes in their wills. As emphasized on the Testament.be website, ‘even if you are not there, your influence continues. More than you imagine.’

The team at Testament.be aims to offer personal advice and equip people with the knowledge needed to make informed, important, and often very difficult decisions, about how they choose to leave this world. For more information about the service they provide, and a full list of the many worthwhile causes they support, please visit the Testament.be website.

APOPO would like to sincerely thank Patrice and Dirk for taking the time to visit our project in Morogoro during their recent stay in Tanzania, and gain a greater understanding of our HeroRATs’ work and the communities it benefits.

Supporter spotlight: Stephen Eddy & the Exmoor Zoo crew

It’s not often that we hear from African giant pouched rats in other parts of the world, but HeroRAT supporter Stephen Eddy and the crew at the Exmoor Zoo are educating the UK public about our sniffing successes. They recently held their own ‘Rat Week’ and also attended the London Championship show, where they had a stall sharing information about APOPO and the HeroRATs. Stephen and the team took along the zoo’s Gambian pouched rats to show people the species we train here in Tanzania to become landmine or TB detection heroes.

Throughout the day, Stephen spoke to many people who were familiar with APOPO’s work or had adopted one of our HeroRATs, but also a number of newcomers who were curious to find out more about what we do. He thought the rats might be exhausted from all the excitement of the day, but he said: ‘true to form, when we got back at 10pm the rats were not tired. The little sods were bright eyed, awake and full of beans wanting their hours of exercise.’ We
think that perhaps, after all this talk of HeroRATs, they were just keen to sniff out some TNT like their hero relatives in Africa...

The HeroRAT team is grateful for Stephen and his team’s dedication and support of our cause, educating their communities about our HeroRATs’ potential!

Finally, our team of heroes (rats and humans alike) in APOPO's Mozambique Mine Action Programme is making great progress towards our goal of a mine-impact free Gaza Province. So far this year, they have already cleared 564,910 square meters of land!

Thanks so much for your continued belief in our HeroRATs' work, and enjoy the month ahead!

Warm regards,
The HeroRATs 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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