A Rat with a Tiny Backpack Might Just Save Your Life Someday

Most people have very strong views on rodents, either loving or hating the little creatures. Rats have certainly made a name for themselves for being exceptionally clever and being able to fit through nearly invisible nooks and crannies. In many cases, that makes them very difficult pests to eradicate. In some cases, though, it makes them very promising potential heroes. The African pouched rat is not the same as the rats we have here in the states, but it is still a rodent. It’s larger than most rats we’re familiar with, too, coming in at around three to four pounds and living up to 8 years, according to the National Pouched Rat Society. Pouched rats have already made a name for themselves as lifesavers, thanks to their amazingly efficient work sniffing out land mines through the HeroRATS program run by the Belgian organization APOPO. According to APOPO’s website, one of their highly trained rats can clear “an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes — a human deminer with a metal detector can take up to 4 days.” Harnessing the rodent’s finely tuned senses and small size has led to researchers recognizing another potential lifesaving career for their small, furry charges: Searching through rubble to find survivors. Dr. Donna Kean is running the program and has a lot of encouraging things to say about developing the rats into miniature search and rescue teams. “I am leading development of the Search and Rescue project at APOPO, where we are training the rats to find trapped survivors in collapsed buildings after natural disasters,” she said during an interview, according to APOPO. “For this, the rats are trained to locate people hidden amongst debris in a mock collapsed building site. They communicate that they have found a human to us by pulling a ball attached to the vests that they wear. “They then return to where they were released from to receive a tasty treat. Their progress is very promising so far!” Kean keeps people updated on the rats’ progress through social media, sharing videos and factoids about the unusual rodents and bringing awareness of their true talents. The rats are currently being trained in mock debris, wearing small backpacks containing a microphone. The goal is to eventually have them outfitted with little backpacks containing a microphone, camera and location-tracking device so that rescuers can locate and communicate with survivors trapped in debris. Once the rats are fully trained, they’ll get their first assignment in earthquake-prone Turkey, according to People. A total of 170 pouched rats will be trained for this important search and rescue task, as well as to detect certain life-threatening diseases. Who knows — maybe the future will hold search-and-rescue rats instead of search-and-rescue dogs! This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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