All sorts of animals have helped humankind through tough situations. Even hero rats are training to be of support. These rescue rats will work alongside humans to get victims out of earthquake debris!
Hero Rats Squeeze Through Debris
Even rodents are helping humans in 2022. Based in Morogoro, Tanzania, an organization called APOPO launched a project called HeroRATS. Trained by research scientist Dr. Donna Kean from Glasgow, the hero rats wear small backpacks with the necessary tools to connect earthquake victims and rescue teams. In just two weeks, the 33-year-old scientist trained a total of seven rats!
Interestingly enough, Dr. Kean wasn’t interested in rodents at first. She studied ecology at Strathclyde University, then pursued a master’s at the University of Kent and a Ph.D. at Stirling University. The scientist wanted to work with primate behavior. Yet, the fast training and learning pace of rats piqued her curiosity. Dr. Kean also states that their bad hygiene is a huge lie. Rats are very “sociable,” according to her, and they will save a lot of lives in the future.
For now, the African giant pouched rats are handling homemade prototypes of rescue backpacks that include microphones, video gear, and location trackers. These three pieces of technology, in addition to the incredible physical abilities of rodents, will help rescue teams communicate with survivors after they experience real-life earthquakes. After going through the entire training process, the animals will work in Turkey, where earthquakes are incredibly common. They will then team up with a certified search and rescue team.
Well-Suited Rescue Rats
In total, 170 rats will be in the HeroRATS project. In addition to learning to work with earthquakes, rats are also trained to find landmines and tuberculosis. Soon, the non-profit hopes rats could also sniff out Brucellosis, a disease that affects livestock. While dogs have been used to find landmines and tuberculosis before, the smaller size of rats is definitely useful, especially for earthquakes and disaster zones. “Rats would be able to get into small spaces to get to victims buried in rubble,” Dr. Kean said.
The next step for the project is to get new, more professionally made backpacks. “When we get the new backpacks we will be able to hear from where we are based and where the rat is, inside the debris,” Kean said. “We have the potential to speak to victims through the rat.”
The animals in the program are trained to hear and respond to a beep — it indicates they have to return to the base. “It’s quite unusual. They are so agile, they are so good at moving through all kinds of different environments,” Dr. Kean explained. “They are perfect for search and rescue-type work, can live off anything. They are very good at surviving in different environments which just shows how suitable they are for search and rescue work…We hope it will save lives, the results are really promising.”