'Hero' rats wearing backpacks trained to search for disaster survivors

Rodents are kitted out with tiny, high-tech backpacks to help rescue workers communicate with people in need of help

The rats' size, excellent sense of smell and adventurous spirit make them perfect for locating things in tight places. Photo: Apopo.
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Rats carrying cameras on tiny backpacks are being trained to search disaster areas for survivors.

The new project comes from Belgian and US non-profit organisation Apopo, which focuses on training southern giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis. The animals are known as “Herorats”.

The rodents are kitted out with small, high-tech backpacks to help first responders search for survivors in war zones or disaster areas.

“Rats are typically quite curious and like to explore — and that is key for search and rescue,” Donna Kean, a behavioural research scientist and leader of the project, told CNN.

The rats' size, excellent sense of smell and adventurous spirit make them perfect for locating things in tight places, she said.

The rats are trained to first locate a person in an empty room and then pull a switch on their vests, setting off an alarm.

At the end of the exercise, they are given a treat.

Apopo has teamed up with the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands to develop the backpack, which will be equipped with a video camera, two-way microphone and location transmitter to help first responders communicate with survivors.

“Together with the backpack and the training, the rats are incredibly useful for search and rescue,” Ms Kean said.

The animals have 15-minute training sessions five days a week.

They live alone or with same-sex siblings in home cages, which is also where they live out their days once they retire from working life.

Updated: October 26, 2022, 11:56 AM
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