HeroRATs: The Ultimate Collaboration
To most people, rats are just pests. However Bart Weetjens realized that their extraordinary sense of smell could help with landmine detection. Inspired by his love of rodents and a publication about using gerbils as scent detectors his unconventional idea is now keeping communities safe around the world. Collaboration has been key to turning this idea into a success.
“In 2018, remnants of war such landmines caused 6,897 casualties. Over 60 million people living in 59 countries from Angola to Cambodia, do so in daily fear of these menaces.”
Collaboration to Increase Credibility
Bart took his idea to his classmate at design school in Antwerp, Christophe Cox and in 1997 they secured funding and founded APOPO. While most conventional methods were tech- intensive, they used their experience in rural development projects in Africa to propose a more sustainable alternative for the subsistence farmer.
“In the early days we were laughed at,” Bart explained. Bart stresses how if it wasn’t for the support of their professors, they may never have secured initial funding. “What I learned from this is that first of all, you can't do this kind of project alone.” He adds that, similarly collaboration with other research bodies and animal welfare organizations was essential to forge the credibility to overcome early negative feedback.
Collaboration with Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect
“We both had a strong connection with the ‘developing world’ which is a bit of a lousy term because in many ways we can learn so much from African culture.”
Bart and Christophe were never inspired by a linear consumer society based on extraction, production, consumption, and disposal. They opted for a “glocalized” approach integrating into a diverse society and trained the rats together with its people. What they created is a more cost-effective demining process that can clear an area, that would normally take 2-3 days, in 30 minutes.
Their sustainable method is a collaboration between humans and nature where the rats are “HeroRATs”. They are not harmed in land clearing operations as landmines require at least five kilos of pressure to detonate and the rats, although large, are too light to trigger them.
Rats are very intelligent and sociable animals with individual personalities, and each is given a name. While Bart and Christophe name them after famous punk rockers Bowie and Zapper, the African trainers name them after famous football players and some use beautiful Swahili names.
“It was crucial for us to work from a place of respect for nature and animals. All these values are central to our work.”
A New Type of Collaboration
The landmine problem is far from solved with at least 20 to 30+ more years of work to do. However, readers, you can help speed up the work. Through a new type of collaboration created by ANA (All Nippon Airways), the BLUE WING program makes it easy to support Changemakers like Bart that are finding innovative and practical ways to impact millions of lives across the globe. ANA supports Changemakers and their organizations by reducing the cost to fly staff around the world and focus their resources on the essential work they do. This enables Bart and APOPO to give more land back to the people who need it.
108,236 landmines destroyed
25,345,984 m2 land returned to communities,
With just a few clicks, individuals like you can support Changemakers like Bart and make a real difference in people's lives. By purchasing your plane ticket through BLUEWING (at no additional cost to you) or donating miles directly to a Changemaker of your choosing, you too can be involved in the solutions to the global problems affecting our world today.