BLUE WING -WINGS FOR CHANGE- 「BLUE WING -WINGS FOR CHANGE- 「Training rats to save lives, small in size, massive impact」

Bart Weetjens

Landmines injure thousands and tuberculosis kills millions. Bart realized that the sense of smell of the rats he kept as pets could be used to sniff out mines and disease and founded APOPO with his former schoolmate Christophe Cox. While they might be small, these HeroRATs are saving many lives.



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Remnants of war are still taking thousands of lives

imageLeftover landmines and other explosives currently threaten almost a third of the world’s countries. In 2018, landmines and explosive remnants of war caused 6,897 casualties, of which the vast majority (71%) were civilians and over half of those children.

African giant pouched rats, nicknamed HeroRATs, are too light to set off detonate landmines but very quick at finding them. When integrated into conventional mine clearance methods, such as survey, machines, and deminers with metal detectors, the use of these HeroRATs has been proven to significantly speed up landmine detection, helping return safe land to vulnerable communities as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

Global tuberculosis is still impacting millions

imageThe World Health Organisation (WHO) announced in 2015 that tuberculosis kills more people per year than HIV/AIDS and malaria. In 2018, there were an estimated 10M new cases of tuberculosis and of these, 1.5M people died. Without treatment, patients usually die and can spread the pathogen to up to 15 other people within a year, causing a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.

APOPO conducts research into developing and deploying African giant pouched rats as a TB diagnostic tool. Results show that the HeroRATs can check 100 samples for tuberculosis in 20 minutes. The same task would take a lab technician up to 4 days. The project shows that APOPO can increase partner clinics’ detection rates by 40%.

Innovative research with scent detection as a solution

imageAPOPO believes that its scent detection technology can accelerate the detection of landmines and TB and other applications such as search and rescue, illegal trafficking of wildlife and fauna, and detection of other diseases. By committing to R&D, the organization validates the impact and direction of current applications while enhancing them along the way.

The organization’s work is firmly rooted in empirical research that both informs and guides operational deployment and development of new applications. There is firm adherence to rigorous research standards, close engagement with international research organizations, and frequent publishing results in peer-reviewed journals.

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Portrait of Bart Weetjens

Bart Weetjens

Bart Weetjens is a Zen priest, renowned social entrepreneur and holds a Masters in Product Design from Antwerp University. In 1997, he founded APOPO with his former schoolmate Christophe Cox, which saves human lives from disaster and disease by training giant pouched rats to use their powers of detection. He was selected as an ASHOKA fellow and a SCHWAB fellow to the World Economic Forum and won the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2009. He also joined The Wellbeing Project and co-founded, a permaculture/wellbeing center.


APOPO is a global non-profit organization that researches, develops, and implements scent detection technology to combat global humanitarian issues. It’s CEO, Christophe Cox is a former schoolmate of Bart’s and they launched APOPO together. APOPO’s detection rats currently unearth landmines and sniff out tuberculosis in affected countries around the world. The rats are trained through clicker/reward methods, receiving tasty food treats when they identify explosives or tuberculosis. They are never harmed because they are too light to actually set off any landmines and are cared for under strict animal welfare guidelines.

APOPO has humanitarian demining programs in Angola, Cambodia and Mozambique and is preparing operations in Zimbabwe. APOPO also detects tuberculosis in Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia. APOPO’s Training and Research Center is in Tanzania.