Some of you may have read about sightings of giant rats, dubbed by one paper as ‘Ratzilla’. These are allegedly just well fed Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus), but did you know there are larger rat species around the world and some of them are considered heroes rather than pests?
The African Giant Pouched Rat (Cricetomys Gambianus) is native to most of Sub-Saharan Africa and weighs in at over 2 lb, two or three times bigger than a Brown Rat. With Non-Government Organization funding, a group called APOPO was set up 20 years ago to train these rats to detect landmines. Weighing roughly 2 lbs, the rats are not heavy enough to set off the mines. Starting in Mozambique, the program now operates in six countries in Africa and Asia.
Dubbed ‘hero rats,’ the rodents have now cleared 9 million square meters of minefield in Mozambique, unearthing 3,000 land mines, 1,000 unexploded bombs and 27,000 pieces of small arms and ammunition. By using the rats that are already native in parts of Africa, they have helped eliminate the need for exclusion of these pests, but rather finding a good use for them. Although APOPO is a privately funded organization, this method of using ‘hero rats’ has been very useful for them in keeping regions of Africa and Asia safe, while attracting the attention of the United Nations which earned them £60,000 in funding. Not bad for rats!
Now they are also breeding rats to detect Tuberculosis in sputum samples. The rats can detect Tuberculosis earlier and can assess in ten minutes samples that take a lab technician a day, making a big contribution to preventing the spread of this disease. Although these African rodents are two times the size of the fluffy gerbil your children have and half as cute, it certainly is put to good use in what it is trained to do so.
The African Giant Pouched Rat has very poor eyesight, but what it lacks in vision it makes up for in smell. The rat detects levels of Tuberculosis when trained to smell mucus and detect whether it is positive or negative. The training of these creatures is crucial in the battle against Tuberculosis and can save thousands of dollars in testing machines that are used throughout the world.
Although they have been used extensively in Africa for good, these Ratzillas have began to emerge in southern Florida, beginning in 2007 when authorities declared them invasive and attempted to rid the area of these rats. Despite their efforts to eradicate the rats, they have continued to survive and thrive in the environment. The Fish and Wildlife Commission of Florida has been baiting the traps with peanut butter and cantaloupe regularly with limited success. Perhaps it’s possible for these giant-sized rodents to detect other insects, like our bed bug dogs.
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Do you have any ideas on other ways these rats could be used for good? Share below in the comments!