It might be hard for some people to think of rats as heroes, but the NGO APOPO wants to change that with their brave crew of explosives-detecting rats. The band is called HeroRATS, and they’ve helped clear landmines left behind in wake of Mozambique’s civil war.
The rats have been so successful at finding landmines that Mozambique was declared landmine-free in September of this year.
The HeroRATS' next mission is to help clean up a dangerous ammunition dump, with the goal of one day restoring the area and creating a nature reserve. The complex in Maputo, Mozambique was used for ammunition storage for decades, and has had two major explosions and also some smaller incidents. These accidents not only resulted in the deaths of several civilians, according to APOPO, but also scattered dangerous ammunition across the complex.
That’s where the rats come in. A crew of 10 highly-trained giant African pouched rats (Cricetomys gambianus), a species native to the region, systematically sniff out the explosives. Because the rats are so light, they don’t face the same danger as a person trying to do the same job. Once the rats pinpoint the danger, then their human partners can come and disable the explosive.
The rats are also much faster than a human with a metal detector. They can cover an area of 200 square meters in about 20 minutes, a task that could take humans between two to four days. Plus, care and training the rats is a much lower-cost way of finding dangerous explosives.
Although APOPO is a Belgian NGO, the trainers and staff are residents of Mozambique, so the project will also help provide jobs and training to the local community.
Once the area is cleared, the Ministry of the Environment hopes to turn the site into an ecological park. Plans for the park include recreation areas, a botanical garden, a bird sanctuary and trails.