Apopos: Training detection HEROrats to save limbs. Image from sosense.org.

Around this time last year, I wrote a tribute to my late friend Peter, a wonderful, generous soul with a brilliant, restless mind and a quirky wit.

Among the many things Peter taught me was how intelligent rats are. He loved rats, and through his eyes and tutelage, I came to see these “filthy rodents” in a fresh way.

Of course, it’s also true that under circumstances different from the ones I’m describing here, rats can be a source of serious disease and not at all a good thing to have in one’s neighborhood. But there are also people who keep them as beloved pets. Which goes to show, I think, that context is everything.

When Peter knew he was dying, he requested that donations be sent to Apopo, an organization that trains “HeroRats” to sniff out land mines, thereby leading to the safe removal of these live mines left over from wars in many countries.

Through their sensitized little noses, the rats save the lives and limbs of millions of people—including many children–who might otherwise be victimized well after the end of conflict.

The rats find these land mines in hours, compared to the days required by other removal methods. Their accuracy: 100 percent. The Apopo organization employees are so confident of the rats’ efforts that they take to the fields to play games after their HeroRats’ work has been completed.

Apopo’s goal is to rid the world of land mines within the next 10-15 years. One of their most industrious HeroRats, Magawa, recently received a gold medal award from a British veterinary organization, PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals), which honors heroic animals that save human lives. Magawa is the first rat the organization has honored. Over the past four years, Magawa has cleared 141,000 square meters of land mines and other unexploded ordnance in Cambodia.

Here is Magawa with his little gold medal.

HeroRats are also trained to detect TB, yet another life-saving skill.

Since I made a contribution in Peter’s memory last year, I now have an honorary place on Apopo’s donor list.

The other day, I received an email solicitation: “Looking for the perfect gift?”

I wish the pictures were transferable, but I’m unable to include them here. However, if you go to apopo.org, you can see the photos and read some heartwarming stories about the humans who have benefited from these HeroRats.

There’s Claudi, for example, a six-year-old Tanzanian boy who was becoming increasingly ill. The health clinic that tested his sputum couldn’t determine the cause. But when the sample was brought to the Apopo laboratory, a rat distinguished Claudi’s sputum from 10 other samples. The scientists there confirmed the rat’s “diagnosis,” Claudi received the medication he needed, and he returned to school.

So on the chance that you’re thinking about some last-minute holiday gifts, want to celebrate the passing of the Winter Solstice, or are simply in a giving mood, I thought I’d bring to your attention some things that a small donation to Apopo may provide. I assume there are other overhead expenses built into this PR effort. But the whimsy of the approach appeals to me and my hopeless anthropomorphism, so I’ve included a few samples verbatim from their website.

“A basket of bananas: $10.
Buy our HeroRats their favourite treat. Bananas spread joy and provide HeroRats with the energy and strength needed to save lives.
HeroRats are fed daily with a mix of fruit, vegetables and nutritious rodent pellets. Food is scattered in the bedding and challenging locations to encourage foraging, a natural instinct in rats.”

“Home for a HeroRat: $24.
Buy the gift of a warm cozy home for our HeroRats, a specially designed clay pot perfect for nesting and resting after a hard day’s work.
Every HeroRat home is well ventilated and nicely chilled with air condition or fans during warmer weather conditions. Each home includes wood to gnaw on to help keep their teeth healthy and trimmed, as well as a water bottle infused with vitamins and minerals”

“Love nest. $24.
Buy the gift of a warm cozy home for our HeroRats, a specially designed clay pot perfect for nesting and resting after a hard day’s work.
Every HeroRat home is well ventilated and nicely chilled with air condition or fans during warmer weather conditions. Each home includes wood to gnaw on to help keep their teeth healthy and trimmed, as well as a water bottle infused with vitamins and minerals”

You can also donate $32 to clear 30 square miles of minefield, which returns safe land to local communities so the people can resume their lives and work, free of fear of the dangers facing them simply by walking around.

And $56 will facilitate the screening of 200 TB samples.

You get the idea. Though I am making my contribution with my friend Peter in mind, I’m also doing so to bid farewell to 2020, a year that I suspect Peter would be pleased to hear me characterize as one for which most of us do not give a rat’s…but that’s another story.

Cheers everyone!


21 thoughts on “OH, RATS!!

    1. True enough, Neil. And if I saw one on a city street or in a subway station, I’m not sure I’d be thrilled.

      But I figure these little varmints deserve some good words for the incredible work they do. I love the photo of Magawa with his well-earned gold medal.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Leave it to my good friend to inform us about things somewhat outside the mainstream. I do have it on good authority that when trump attempted to enlist all of the world’s rats the four legged versions did the same as 80 million of us two legged
    individuals. We all REJECTED him!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. 150 million voted in the last election. That’s quite a lot of voting for 81 million, which would prove voter fraud. Yes there’s many more than 81million. 😘

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a cool story. I owned and adored several pet rats when I was a child. They are smart, playful and affectionate creatures. I think of myself as a great mom but shamefully must admit, I didn’t let my own kids have one because I didn’t want to deal with its litter. It makes perfect sense to me that rats could be trained for such heroic purposes but I’d never heard of this organization. Maybe I can shake off some of my parental guilt by sending in a donation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carol: I am so impressed to learn of your past as the playmate of some lucky rats. When I was 13, one of my classmates came to my birthday party with his gift: a tiny mouse with red eyes. I thought it was adorable, but my mother and older sister were appalled. S/he couldn’t stay.

      We had guinea pigs and gerbils (as well as parakeets, a small parrot, and dogs) when my girls were growing up. Oh, yes: my younger daughter brought home the class chinchilla over one holiday—a little guy that spat and bit. But no rats.

      I don’t know how old your children are, but perhaps you can wait til they’re able to take on the housekeeping chores themselves.

      And I’m glad to hear that you’re considering a donation to Apopo. It’s such a worthy yet little known organization.

      Thanks for your comment, which elicited some fond remembrances of pets past.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha! Your first sentence made me laugh. Sorry to say, I think you and my kids, who are now adults and don’t like the idea of owning a rat, have missed out. I got a Guinée pig in high school that was a total dud compared to the rats. No more personality than an armchair and far worse company. Like you, I grew up with lots of pets, mostly dogs and cats. Then I married a dog hater but this may be his only flaw so what can you do. I did indeed send a small donation. Thanks again for the tip.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have written about being seriously dog-deprived. I really need something furry. Though my husband loves dogs, he has eschewed one at this stage in our lives. ( I explain in “Doggone it: Where’s My Doggie?”). I’ll have to see how he responds to the rat idea. (Though I think my requirements include a fluffy tail.)

    If that’s your husband’s only flaw, you’re damn lucky!


  4. Annie this has to be one of the coolest things and makes me feel guilty for Craig’s ridding our storage caverns in the side of our house of a pair we saw on camera. I couldn’t look. I asked if there were a way to just lure them outside. But there’s not. I will make amends to our pair by giving to the HeroRats. I am deeply moved by this today, and everything feels so heavy anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ilene—

      Re: your comment about the election, at that point it was 81 million of us who had rejected trump—voting for Biden. We weren’t talking about the total vote.

      As I mentioned, context is everything. having a wild rat pair so close is definitely unhealthy and unsustainable. But I’m glad you’re donating to Apopo.org. They do great work.


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