When Donna Kean moved from Scotland to Tanzania, she had more than just the culture shock to deal with.
[...] "With the rats, I was very surprised at just how intelligent they are and how trainable and how quickly they can learn, it was amazing."
For the past year she has been working with the NGO APOPO, training rats to become invaluable members of earthquake search and rescue teams.
[...] The rats will wear a special little backpack containing a camera, a location transmitter and a two-way radio, allowing rescuers to communicate with the person who is trapped.
Rats are trained to activate a switch on their backpack when they find a person in the rubble, transmitting a precise location back to rescuers.
[...] Researchers at APOPO have taken into account that injured and traumatized earthquake survivors may not exactly welcome a rat scratching around beside them.
"One thing that we've been considering is that [the rats] might play a message like an audio recording that says something like, 'I am a rescue rat, I'm well trained. I'm here to help you,'" said Kean.
"Something along those lines, we'll think of the ideal message to put people at ease."
[...] Kean says the rats would not put any rescue dogs out of work, but would complement human and canine teams.
Rats. Why does it have to be rats?
« NASA's Next Mars Copter to Have Rotors Tested in Japan | Can Farms Produce to the Max and Still Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions? »
Learning to drive small cars helps rats feel less stressed, scientists found.
Researchers at the University of Richmond in the US taught a group of 17 rats how to drive little plastic cars, in exchange for bits of cereal.
Study lead Dr Kelly Lambert said the rats felt more relaxed during the task, a finding that could help with the development of non-pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness.
The rats were not required to take a driving test at the end of the study.
Enriched Environment Exposure Accelerates Rodent Driving Skills[$] (DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112309) (DX)
A heroic rat named Magawa has been working for five years in Cambodia, sniffing out dozens of land mines. He is believed to have saved lives.
Now, the animal is about to embark on a well-deserved retirement.
"Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down," the nonprofit APOPO[*] said Thursday. "It is time."
Magawa is a Tanzanian-born African giant pouched rat who was trained by APOPO to sniff out explosives. With careful training, he and his rat colleagues learn to identify land mines and alert their human handlers, so the mines can be safely removed.
Even among his skilled cohorts working in Cambodia, Magawa is a standout sniffer: In four years he has helped to clear more than 2.4 million square feet of land. In the process, he has found 71 land mines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance.
Last year, Magawa received one of Britain's highest animal honors.