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September 09, 2010

They Work for Peanuts....

Giant, mine clearing rats, that is:


The cost to train a rat is 6,000 euros ($7,700), roughly a third of what it costs to train a dog. Where dogs need expansive kennel facilities and regular veterinary care because of African climates, APOPO's kennel facilities at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania, can house up to 300 rats. The rats see a single vet once a week and are much easier to transport than dogs, Weetjens said.

Training begins with socialization when the rats are 4 weeks old because "it's really important they learn man are friends," Weetjens said.

A system of Pavlovian conditioning follows. Trainers teach the rodents to associate a clicking noise with something tasty: a banana or peanuts. The same treats are used to teach them how to signal when they find a mine and how to detect the scent of TNT in tea balls.

The final phase before they're shipped to Mozambique for accreditation includes several trial runs in APOPO's training minefields, some of which contain tea balls, others live mines.

Nailing down the regimen was tricky. At one point in APOPO's early days, the rats performed perfectly in trials, making Weetjens suspicious. It turned out the rats were outsmarting the humans.

"They knew which samples had been touched by the trainers," he said. "We have to remain extremely vigilant not to bring in additional cues that help the animal find out what the rewarding samples are."

Posted by Cassandra at September 9, 2010 08:10 AM

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How awesome!

Posted by: FbL at September 9, 2010 09:26 AM

That is nice. Covering up a human "mistake" by claiming the rats were just smart.

Rather than humans being sub inferior in intelligence and over abundant in not using what intelligence they do have.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 9, 2010 09:38 AM

I remember various months back they said "Oh, Obama's smart, just give him time and he'll do well".

Covers up people's stupidity.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 9, 2010 09:39 AM

"'. . . [I]t's really important they learn man are friends," Weetjens said."

Some friends.

Posted by: Julesbernard at September 9, 2010 01:52 PM

There is an old cartoon with two rats in a Skinner box. One rat is saying to the other, "Watch this. I've got the human trained so that every time I push this bar, he gives me food."

Or, as I've heard is said, the rats shall inherit the earth.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at September 9, 2010 02:45 PM

A minefield? Oh, rats!

Posted by: lumpy at September 9, 2010 08:43 PM

Buttercup: Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.'s?

Westley: Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist. [Immediately, an R.O.U.S. attacks him] ...

Posted by: ziobuck at September 9, 2010 09:09 PM

A minefield?
Who gives a rodents posterior? *Rimshot*

What?! You knew it was bound to be said. I simply couldn't stand the suspense any longer.

Posted by: bthun at September 9, 2010 09:47 PM

OT, we've been made aware of an organization that allows for deployed people to have their beloved 4 legged friends to be "adopted" while they're gone.

Does anyone have info on this? We could board some extra horses, dogs, and cats, but we're kind of in the dark. Halp.

Posted by: Allen at September 9, 2010 11:12 PM

Allen, I was actually just working up a page on that for my Soldiers' Angels binder for Saturday's Yellow Ribbon event for the 36th ID (TXARNG). It's Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 10, 2010 12:11 AM

I think I goofed something up on the hyperlink. Shouldn't previewed...

Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 10, 2010 12:13 AM

So what happens when you use African shrews in this little minefield test?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 10, 2010 09:16 AM

We adopted a rat named Greta from the psychology lab. She was trained for mazes. Smartest pet I ever had. Brilliant. Fun. I think this is a great idea.

Posted by: kanani at September 13, 2010 02:30 PM

Rats are supposed to be very intelligent. I loved the first photo in the slideshow.

Allen, this is a great site for researching military related nonprofits:

The link below is a search on "pets". They are still in beta mode until they finish populating their database but they have a lot of great links!


Posted by: Cassandra at September 13, 2010 02:36 PM

So what happens when you use African shrews in this little minefield test?

They spend all their time screaming at their husbands to bring them peanuts.

Posted by: BillT at September 14, 2010 01:59 AM