“Ratscue”: Rats could be the future of search and rescue missions

Rats have a bad reputation as a threat and vector of disease. However, some groundbreaking research suggests rodents could be helpful in search and rescue missions.

Donna Kean, researcher at APOPO, a nonprofit that educates Rats to save lives by detecting landmines and tuberculosis, tweeted about how her NGO is training rats to help with search and rescue missions.

While tweeting a picture of a giant rat eating through a syringe, Kean wrote, “I train these clever creatures to rescue victims trapped in collapsed buildings after earthquakes. We outfit them with a rat backpack and train them to trigger a switch when they find a victim and come back for a treat 🐀 #herosnotpests #science #weirdjobs #WomenInSTEM”.

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The tweet went viral on Thursday, garnering over a lakh of likes from people curious about her research.

In conversation with Sciencein a journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Kean explained that she and her colleagues at APOPO had trained rats to follow a simple but powerful set of instructions that can help identify people trapped under rubble are.

So far, in laboratory settings, the APOPO researchers have trained rats to comb areas, detect the presence of people, make a noise to alert rescuers to the person, and return to starting points. By equipping the rats with a GPS device, rescuers can pinpoint the whereabouts of the survivor.

Additionally, unlike most animal-related research, APOPO’s training follows all ethical standards, and rats are given “regular playtime and a retirement package” when they are no longer able to work.

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