When Michael posted about rats who were sniffing out land mines in Africa, I went right to the Apopo website and adopted one. It costs $8 per month, hardly a blip on my monthly credit card bill, and about the price of an upscale cappucino and a croissant in New York. And what important work the little guy will do!
|David and me in South Africa in 2003|
I had been primed to do my little bit to help. During my first trip to Africa in 2003, on a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, I met a young American woman who was on her way to a meeting. She worked in Angola for a nonprofit devoted to ridding the country of land mines. She told me that her organization had been endowed by Princess Diana Spencer and described great devastation to people and to animals from the mines.
The princess had gotten interested in the cause when, in 1997 (the year she died), the International Red Cross invited her to witness the tragic consequences and asked her to help publicize the problem. Politicians in the UK publicly disapproved of Diana’s taking a position, which only made her and the rest of the sane world all the more determined to rid the planet of those indiscriminant killers.
My young American acquaintance told me that she had just taken some time off to visit game parks in South Africa, since—thanks to the millions of land mines left behind by a twenty-year civil war—there was almost no wildlife left in Angola. Enchanted and enthralled as I was with the African wilderness at that moment, I found the idea too sad for words. To say nothing of the unspeakable damage done to people—children and grownups—who had lost their lives to land mines. The luckier ones lost only their limbs. Horrifying.
I am proud that little Victor will do his bit to help. From time to time I will post here about his progress. For now, this is what I know about him, from an email I received last Monday:
Baby Victor is born!
|The photo of the newborn that came with this message|
Welcome to the world, Victor! It is celebration time in APOPO's rat kennels today for the birth of baby Victor and its two siblings. Victor belongs to the species Cricetomys gambianus, commonly known as the African giant pouched rat, which are often born in litters of 2 or 3. APOPO's breeding program ensures that prospective parents of our future heroes are carefully handpicked to deliver healthy, happy and high-quality rat babies. A successful breeding program increases the likelihood of delivering excellent HeroRATs to detect landmines and tuberculosis.
APOPO's early experiences demonstrated that rats that grow up in the organization's kennels are easier to train and are more effective scent detectors. Since many rats are needed for mine action and TB detection operations, APOPO's research and development department is constantly working on ways to optimize the breeding program. Before placing rat couples in the breeding cages, the APOPO staff closely monitors the acceptance behavior of the animals in the introduction cage. Female rats either reject or accept a prospective mate in this cage and in cases of clear acceptance, the rat couples are placed together in the breeding cages.
Crucial information such as the best timing for the female rats and the fertility period of the male rats go a long way in improving the productivity of the breeding colony. APOPO's breeding program also ensures optimal care, feeding and medical attention to aid the overall welfare of the animals and subsequently improve the quality of rats available for training.
I look forward to following Victor’s career. I’ll keep you posted.
When the HeroRats are finished with their work in Africa, there are, sad to say, mines in Bosnia and Cambodia, and many other places around the globe for Victor and his brethren to tackle.
Annamaria - Monday