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8 animals helping humans save the planet

By: Sidney Stevens on Nov. 18, 2011, 8:37 a.m.
close-up of rat on ground

Photo: APOPO

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Undetonated land mines are a serious form of pollution that leaves large geographical areas virtually uninhabitable and injures or kills thousands each year. That’s why locating and removing them from former war zones is so important. Trouble is that few human volunteers are willing to risk their lives to uncover them. Enter the rat brigade, specifically, African giant pouched rats. These fast-learning rodents, dubbed HeroRATs (which incidentally are too light to set off land mines), are being trained at the humanitarian organization APOPO to sniff out buried explosives. (APOPO is an acronym from Dutch for Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development.) The group is also training rats to locate people buried under rubble from natural disasters, as well as detect leaking gas lines and even the presence of tuberculosis in human sputum samples.