Detection Rats Technology: What To Know About APOPO


It is common for us to hear that dogs can do a wide variety of things in various squads. Little did we know that detection rats technology is also one extraordinary method that can save lives. Back in late September, BBC issued this article about a mine-detecting rat who won an animal bravery award. It sparked my interest because I had never known or heard of that before. Let alone knowing that the particular brave mine-detecting rat is actually living in Cambodia, where I live. To learn more about detection rats technology, I actually went to the APOPO center with a friend of mine. Below are the things that I learned about this incredible organization, so let’s find out below.

1What Are Mine Detection Rats?

One of the rats that was going to perform their mine-detection skill

Also going by the name HeroRats, Mine Detection Rats (MDRs) are very special. These Southern Giant Pouched Rats can detect not only landmines but also tuberculosis, with a very high level of accuracy. These large rodents are widely distributed in tropical regions of southern Africa, and the trained ones are from Tanzania.

APOPO (Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling) is a Belgian NGO that trains these rodents to detect landmines and tuberculosis. The organization spends about 9 months to train each rat, and one rat costs approximately $7000 US. Usually, HeroRats retire at the age of 6 years old after they work for around 4 or 5 years.

2Why Rats?

Interesting sign, yes?

The African giant pouched rats are so much better at detecting TNT and other explosives than dogs and metal detectors. These rats are intelligent, so training them is very easy and fast. At the same time, they are also more economical as well when it comes to feeding, maintenance, and breeding. Another main advantage of HeroRats is that they are so light, so they won’t set off the landmines as they work. Most mines in the field will explode if an object as heavy as 3kgs is on them. The rats are 1.5kgs at most, so they are safer compared to dogs.

The best part is that they will start digging on the spot if they detect mines or explosives. They work fast and accurately, and they save a lot of time which is why they are better. A mine detecting job that takes humans a fortnight is done in just one day by a rat. Their incredible sense of smell allows them to sniff out the explosive up to one meter ahead and one meter underground. With up to 100% accuracy, the HeroRats never miss any landmine.

As for Magawa, the medal owner; has helped to clear more than 1.5 million square feet of land in 4 years. Such marvelous service is definitely worth the event for the first time in the history of honoring animals with a medal to a rat. Previous honorees of the events are dogs, horses, pigeons, and a cat. In fact, Magawa is the first rat to receive the PDSA gold medal for his lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty.

“Among other HeroRats that we have in our organization here, Magawa is the most hard-working. He never refuses to show his skills, and he works at his best every time.”, said one of the rat handlers at APOPO Cambodia.

3How Do They Work?

The rat will go from row to row to sniff for mines, and that is how they work faster

Before the team brings out the rat, the land must be prepared with special machinery to cut the brush to ground level. Each area of 200 square meters is surrounded by ropes in a rectangular shape. One rat requires two handlers to lead the rope between them as the rat sniffs the ground. The rat then indicates the scent of the explosives by scratching or digging the ground. Once they marked the ground, the technician team will use a metal detector to locate the area of the mine. That is how the mines are found and destroyed with help from HeroRats.

4What Does APOPO Visitor Center Offer?

Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday (8:30AM – 4:30PM)
Ticket: 8000 Riel ($2US)
Location: Koumai Road

You can visit the APOPO center as you go to Angkor Wat temple since the center is on the same road. The tour usually takes between 45 minutes to 60 minutes, and the staff explains everything in great detail. You can also ask questions about the rats, the vision of the organization, and more related information. Each tour will show you:

  • The brief information about HeroRats
  • Landmine data in Cambodia
  • 4 main types of landmines in Cambodia
  • Demonstration of how the HeroRats work in the field
  • Photo sessions with one of the HeroRats
  • Documentary video about the process and achievement of APOPO Cambodia
  • Landmine display & gift shop

I really enjoyed the tour because I got to learn about HeroRats which have been helping people in my country. All of the information was new to me, and I am so glad that we have this special Detection Rats Technology here. Wonder where to go in Siem Reap? APOPO Visitor is a great place that you should drop by. I highly recommend you visit the place at least once because the contribution will help a lot.

Our country still has millions of mines, and the organization needs funds to continue their amazing work for our people, especially farmers. I hope that more people will visit the center and see the incredible performance and achievement of the HeroRats. The goal of APOPO Cambodia is to clear and destroy all landmines in Cambodia by 2025. Let’s make a contribution and achieve this goal together.