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APOPO is an acronym from Dutch which stands for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling, or in English, Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development.
APOPO is a non-profit organization that researches, develops and implements detection rats technology for humanitarian purposes such as clearing landmines and detecting tuberculosis. APOPO is a Belgian NGO, with headquarters in Tanzania and operations in Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia.
APOPO trains rats to save lives. Our mission is to develop detection rats technology to provide solutions for global problems and inspire positive social change.
The Belgian Directorate for International Co-operation (DGIS) provided the initial financial support to develop the concept in November 1997. APOPO vzw was registered under the Belgian law as a non-commercial agency, and started its first research in early 1998. Later, APOPO became a registered Belgian NGO.
It was Bart Weetjens, our founder, who came up with the idea. Bart kept pet rats as a child. During his studies, he was carrying out an analysis of the landmine problem in Sub Saharan Africa and realized that landmine clearance was dangerous and costly. He had recently come across an article about gerbils and their ability to detect explosives in lab conditions, and when he thought back to the sense of smell of his pet rats, and their trainability, he put two and two together et voilà. He consulted with Professor Ron Verhagen, a rodent expert at the University of Antwerp, who recommended the giant African pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus) because of its long lifespan and adaptation to the harsh conditions in Africa.
We've been doing research since APOPO’s initial establishment in 1998.
APOPO has its HQ in Tanzania, with a breeding- and training center and a TB research and detection center. There is a Mine Action- and a TB program in Mozambique and we have Mine Detection Rats deployed in Angola since 2014. In Cambodia, APOPO is surveying huge areas of land, accurately determining the extend of mine contamination. This approach was used in Thailand as well. APOPO was also working in Vietnam and Lao PDR where we were detecting Unexploded Ordnances, as well as helping the national authorities to build capacity to handle their explosive remnants of war (ERW) problem.
In October 2014 we had 81 rats in various stages of training for landmine detection and 5 in training to become TB detection rats. The TB-lab in Morogoro had 36 HeroRATs at work. At our headquarters in Morogoro, 29 rats were involved in the breeding program. In Angola, we had 20 HeroRATs operational and 76 rats were working in landmine detection operations in Mozambique. In the TB lab in Maputo, there were 9 rats working.
African giant pouched rats are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, they are used to the tropical climate and are resilient to many tropical diseases. Veterinary care requirements are therefore relatively small. Routine care includes daily observations of individual animals, weekly health reports and regular prevention treatments for parasites.
During the week, trained rats live on a reward diet that consists mainly of bananas and peanuts. On the weekend, they eat a balanced diet of grains, maize, nuts, vegetables, fruits, fish and sometimes insects. This is also the permanent diet for the breeding rats, but during weekdays they get additional fruits and vegetables (e.g. Monday tomatoes and eggplant, Tuesday sweet potatoes and watermelon, etc).
APOPO has a breeding program which supplies rats ‘as needed’ for the training, research and detection programs currently underway. We have breeding couples and successfully trained rats that are taking a ‘work holiday’ also participate in our breeding program. Sometimes additional wild rats are introduced into the breeding program (to scale up productivity). In the early days we attempted to use wild-caught rats, but it became clear very quickly that it was not going to work. The rats were aggressive and just could not be handled. Now we breed the rats and begin handling them and exposing them to all kinds of objects, sounds, and smells as soon as they open their eyes, at about four weeks of age. When the rats are raised in constant contact with people, they are very easy to handle and train.
The HeroRATs in training share kennels with their siblings. The kennels are cleaned regularly and the rats have their own caretaking staff who make sure they are fed, loved, have access to drinking water, and clean living quarters. As other captive-born rats, the HeroRATs enjoy attention, including being petted and taken out for playtime. APOPO has several outside pens where the rats can play and get used to an outside environment. The breeding enclosures are designed to simulate the native habitat of the rats, complete with dirt to make tunnels and create living chambers in.
Routine care includes daily observations of individual animals, weekly health inspection and reports and regular prevention treatments for parasites. Every two weeks a vet visits the training and breeding facility to check on the animals. The rats eat a well-balanced diet and we make sure that they have plenty of time to relax and play in between the training and work sessions.
The majority of our rats live to the end of their expected life-span. None of our rats have ever died as a result of their detection work. Rats in general can be somewhat susceptible to cancers when exposed too long to sun.That is prevented by APOPO by applying high factor sun block cream on the sensitive parts such as the ears before the rats go to the field. However, for the most part our rats live long, healthy lives.
Demining is a dangerous job and, sadly, human deminers are sometimes injured or killed. The rats have a significant advantage over their human demining partners in that a pressure-activated antipersonnel landmine typically requires about five kilograms of pressure to be activated. Our heaviest operational male rats do not exceed 1.5 kilograms and are, therefore, in no danger of activating this type of landmine. However, working around landmines is dangerous work for anyone involved. Fortunately, no rats have been injured or killed in the minefield to date.
APOPO trains the rats through operant conditioning, using a combination of a click sound and food rewarding. Training starts at the age of 4-5 weeks, with socialization. The young rats are weaned from their mothers and APOPO’s trainers begin socializing them to the sights, sounds, and textures of the human world. Once our rats are six weeks old, click training begins, where we teach the rats to associate a click sound with a food reward – usually banana or peanuts. After two weeks at this stage, the rats learn that click means food, and are now ready to be trained on a target scent. After these steps, our rats specialize in a target scent in either TNT for detecting landmines or TB for detecting TB in human sputum samples. After odor imprint, the complexity of their tasks gradually increases until they reach the final training stage where they have to do a blind test in order to be accredited.
The HeroRATs can live up to 6 - 8 years. Conservatively, we estimate they can work in the field for up to 4-5 years.
The breeding couples generally have 2-3 litters each per year, with 1 to 5 pups per litter.
Please visit our adoption page, fill in the amount you’d like to contribute (the minimum amount for an adoption is 5€/7$ per month), add your email address, your first name and last name and chose a name for the HeroRAT. Then tick the 'gift option' box underneath the ‘confirm contribution button’ and input the gift recipient's information. The gift recipient will receive the full package of adopting a HeroRAT and a notification of who sent the gift. The person who gave the adoption will also receive occasional updates about the HeroRATs' training and development as well as the impact of the donation, and APOPO news on myapopo.org and/or via email, based on your email preferences.
When you adopt a HeroRat through myapopo you will:
The cost of adopting a HeroRAT is 5 euro/7 dollars per month or 60 euro/84 dollars per year. These can be completed in two ways:
At the right side of our adoption page, you can find a 'make it annual' button. Click on the button and the system will automatically change any monthly amount to the equivalent annual amount (see contribution box). Then fill in email address, first name and last name. You can also name your HeroRAT. Click on 'confirm contribution' and you’ll be referred to the PayPal website. If your payment is proceeded, you will receive a confirmation email and soon after you will get all login information for you Myapopo wall.
APOPO is unable to issue tax receipts for donations we receive via PayPal. We work together with different institutions where you can transfer your donation to and receive a tax receipt from. Please visit our Tax Effective Giving page for more information.
Please do! We welcome any amount over the minimum 5 euro, simply fill in the amount you want to donate every month. Every cent goes to helping the HeroRATs make this world a better place for those in need.
Our first welcome message contains a link to your adoption certificate. You can also find the certificate on your Myapopo page after login. Click on 'my HeroRAT' at the top left of the page and choose 'download adoption certificate'.
You should receive a first message about your adoption the same day you subscribed. Please first check your spam folder as our messages sometimes end up there. If you can't find any message from our side, send us an email and we'll look into the problem.
We will soon have personal fundraising pages on myapopo.org to fundraise on behalf of APOPO for your events! Until then you can make use of the GlobalGiving fundraising pages. In the meantime, to stay up-to-date on all HeroRAT happenings, make sure you sign up for our e-newsletter at www.apopo.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Although the HeroRATs will miss you, you are able to cancel at any time by logging in to your PayPal account and stopping the subscription. Please note that APOPO cannot cancel the adoption for you – only the PayPal account holder has the authority to cancel the payments.
Please find more information on the PayPal's Help Center Website
Adopters who subscribe to an annual payment, but are not sure if they would like their payment to be automatically renewed after the first year, may cancel any time via their PayPal account. Because they have paid for one full years’ adoption, they will continue to receive their rat’s progress reports for the remainder of the year after cancellation.
You get your own avatar that you can give a name and all of the stories, impact indicators, badges, and avatars are personalized to your experience.
The training process of every baby rat is the same, but then you can choose to send your rat to become a mine detection rat or a tuberculosis detection rat, which receive different stories. Further, the stories are refreshed with the latest updates, news, and training procedures periodically.