The African hamster rat is a giant weighing up to one and a half kilos, which lives three times longer than an ordinary domestic rat. Age is an advantage in prospecting.
In Morogoro, East African Tanzania, African hamster rats are being trained for search work. The trainers work for the Belgian aid organization APOPO, which specializes in rat training.
The tumors, named hero rats, have also searched for land mines and studied tuberculosis tests in the past.
They also have clear gifts for ruin rescue, says the leading behavioral scientist of the training project Donna Kean:
– Since rats are just as easy to train as dogs and they have a great sense of smell and are small and mobile, they will hopefully be good for situations where they have to squeeze into small spaces and get close to victims.
African hamster rats are much larger than European domestic rats. They grow up to 1–1.5 kilograms and live to old age. Dr. Kean says that longevity was an important factor:
– A typical domesticated rat that you can see in Europe lives to be around 2-3 years old, while these rats of ours live to be 8-10 years old, so even after nine months of training, they have quite a long working career ahead of them.
Now the training of the rats is still in progress. They have a backpack with them, to which a small video, a two-way radio and a locating device will eventually be connected.
The project started in August last year. The rats have been taught to explore the area, find the person and return to the trainer after the sound signal to receive a food reward.
Now the search area for the rats is made more complicated and, in addition to clearing obstacles, the rats are taught to tolerate noises, such as the sound of drilling. When, for example, they search for people in the ruins after an earthquake, they have to tolerate the sound of clearing the ruins without getting confused.