Some people are scared off by the additional care that rats require- like constant re-training, veterinarian services, transportation and feeding. Then, there are climates- like deserts- where rats cannot work.
Other challenges come with the type of demining required.
“Many mine problems are not mine problems, but [unexploded ordinance] problems on the surface, which need demolition teams and not search animals,” says Cox.
Even so, Apopo’s rats are currently deployed in Thailand and Mozambique, and they are conducting technical surveys in Cambodia and Angola. By combining the rats with existing technologies- metal detectors and other detection and diffusing tools- they are proving themselves to be fast and effective on the job.
The organisation is also discovering new uses for the rat’s powerful noses and easy trainability. In Tanzania, the rats are being used to detect Tuberculosis in human saliva samples- a disease which kills almost 40 times as many people than landmines each year. The rats detect twice as many TB cases as the current methods, acting as a second-line detection system. As with landmines, the rats are far quicker; they can evaluate more samples in then minutes than a lab technician can do in a day.
“I’m really confident with the promise of the rats, and the potential impact which we can make,” says Cox. But convincing everyone else still isn’t easy.
“It wasn’t easy to penetrate the demining world with rats because it’s military minded, and the health world is equally challenging,” he says. “We have to continue researching and publish and convince the policy makers.”