Sunday, February 26, 2006

More Rat News

Tonight I have a more serious post for you. The following is from an article about the benefits
of rats to humans:

People in different countries are training rats to either become a bomb or tuberculosis detection rat or even a search and rescue rat. In a National Geographic article, “Bees, Giant African Rats Used to Sniff Landmines”, which can be seen on their website, authored by Maryann Mott , it is reported that Giant African rats are being trained to locate land mines. According to the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, D.C., an organization that provides peer counseling and prosthetics to victims throughout the world, “An estimated 80 million mines lay buried in more than 60 countries. Each day 50 people, many of them children are killed or injured” (4th paragraph). Bart Weetjens, who is the director of APOPA, the Belgian research company that trains the African Rats, informs us that in Mozambique, 20 rats were recently used to search for explosives and “Rats are able to detect most types of mines.” The article contains to inform us that as pouched rats only weigh between 1.5 to 3 pounds, they do not trigger the mine and are trained to walk on a leash. When the animals smell explosive material they scratch or bite at the location (10th paragraph).

In yet another example of rats helping humans, is in the area of Search and Rescue. Emily Singer from New Scientist, wrote an article titled, “Rats’ brain waves could find trapped people”, in it she states:

“Rats have an exquisitely sensitive sense of smell and can crawl just about anywhere. This combination makes them ideal candidates for sniffing out buried survivors. For that, the animals need to be taught to home in on people, and they must also signal their position to rescuers on the surface” (2nd paragraph).

This is being done with electrodes being implanted into the rats’ brain.

(Source: New Scientist)

As the article unfolded, it went on to inform me that signals from the permanently implanted electrodes would monitor the rat’s brain activity. Software on the surface will recognize when the rat has found a human and this will inform the search and rescue teams on where to start digging.

The same company that is training rats to sniff out landmines is also training them to sniff out tuberculosis. In “Ratting Out Tuberculosis” in Science magazine, Constance Holden writes, “Researchers in Africa are training rats to sniff out tuberculosis in human sputum. If the furry sensors prove reliable, they could process samples many times faster than human technicians do” (166).

"How wonderful it is that people are seeing that rats can be trained to help people. In order for people to overcome their prejudice, the first thing that needs to happen, is that the common public needs to see that rats are not the sewer dwelling, evil killers, but can indeed be trained to have purpose in our society. I am just flabbergasted that people have no issues or hesitation about spending thousands of dollars training dogs or dolphins to sniff out bombs or cancer but heaven forbid to training a creature with an untrue, unfounded, stigma. I will be the first one to admit that rats cannot replace dogs for all jobs. If I ever find myself stranded on a mountainside, trapped in after an avalanche, I really am going to wish for a dog to come to rescue me, not a rat. However, if I am trapped under hundreds of pounds of rubble after a building has collapsed on me, in my opinion, my chance of survival might go up if there was an animal small enough to crawl thru the tiny spaces to try and find me."

I found this information while looking for rodent images through Google. I like to highlight any information that sheds light on the reality of rats and what they are capable of doing for humans... besides being adorable pets. Hopefully, you took the time to read it.


Rachel said...

What a neat article. I agree that being under rubble, those little guys could poke around lots better than a dog. Just imagine how quick they might find you if you just happened to have some cheese on you!

Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting stuff.

frustratedwriter said...

somebody is really reaching here. i think the rats as search animals are probably a good idea but wouldn't telling a lawyer there was a possible client underneath the rubble be more effective? You know they would find any survivor...

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

That was a very informative article. I guess there is a need for rats besides evil

We seem to have plenty of earthquakes and there are mine fields all over asia and I don't know where else. So the rat could be useful there. I like rats and you should go over and read Camellia in June...she rescues mice & rats from her home and takes care of them until she can relocate them.