APOPO is an organization that uses specially trained African Pouched Rats to detect landmines in Mozambique. It was founded by Belgian Bart Weetjens, who is both a Buddhist monk and a rodent enthusiast. A business and registered charity in Belgium that is headquartered in Tanzania, APOPO’s self-described vision ‘is to develop appropriate detection technologies, to empower vulnerable communities.’ It does this with the help of ‘Hero Rats.’

From a BBC News report:

Rats, according to Apopo, are much faster than men using metal detectors and are not distracted by metal contaminants. They are much cheaper to maintain than dogs and are easily passed between different handlers.

After a ten-year war for independence from Portugal followed by an even longer civil war, Mozambique was littered with deadly mines which lay in every conceivable place. These mines affect all aspects of life in Mozambique.

From a UN source:

“Perhaps the most devastating use of land mines was the random dissection of mines in fields and along access paths to stop peasants from producing food,” notes Human Rights Watch Africa in a report entitled “Land Mines and Economic Life”.

The rats are too light to detonate landmines and are not in danger.

Though technically a business, APOPO is reliant on grants and charitable contributions, as there is not much money to be made clearing poor communities of dangerous landmines. Donations can be made via APOPO’s Hero Rat website, which also features media including a BBC documentary on APOPO’s Hero Rat business.

In the future, Bart Weetjens hopes that APOPO’s rats will also be used to detect tuberculosis (TB) and other diseases as well as illegally smuggled drugs.

Check out this video report from the DW TV on Hero Rats:

Additional resources:

Time magazine – The Landmine-Sniffing Rats of Mozambique