For those of you following the news of Victor the Hero Rat, I have a bimonthly update. The little guy is growing up fast. Here is a bit more about his species and a report of his progress since my last post on this subject.
Victor’s species (Cricetomys gambianus) are commonly called African pouched rats but not because they are marsupials. They have large pouches in their cheeks which they use to carry food and “other things.” I am not sure what those other things might be. A cell phone, a lipstick, an ATM card, house keys, the stuff I normally tote around in my handbag seem unlikely choices.
Their name in Afrikaans—reuse rot—carries some weird connotations if you read it as English. I prefer their Swahili name—panya buku. “Panya” sounds like “panda,” a legendarily loveable creature. The more I learn about Victor and his confreres, the more loveable they become. “Buku” sounds like it means “many” or “much,” a concept that definitely applies to Victor and his cohorts. First of the all, there is a plentiful supply of them. And even more important to their hero status is the number of attributes and capabilities they have to help humans accomplish critically important tasks. They are inexpensive to find, feed, and breed. They don’t see well at all, but their noses are amazingly useful. They have more genes dedicated to the sense of smell than any other mammal. And they’re too lightweight to set off land mines. That size also means they are easy to transport. Plus they resist most tropical diseases and live eight years, meaning that once they are trained, they can be helpful for a long time.
Victor graduates kindergarten
When little Vic was only a few weeks old, his handlers started him on the path to becoming a hero. They do not use obedience training on pouched rats, as might be involved in educating guiding eyes or bomb-sniffing dogs. Vic is being trained by operant conditioning, step one of which is forming a connection between the sound of a clicker and food rewards. So they put him in a glass-walled cage with a small hole in one wall. Vic’s job was to learn, when he heard the sound of the click, to stick his little snout out of the hole and get fed.
You’ll be proud to know that Victor acquired this initial critical trick. Now he is on his way to work hard and successfully, literally for peanuts.
Elementary school for Victor will be to test his ability to detect the scent of TNT or of tuberculosis. If he does that, he can learn to become a detective expert at spotting land mines in Africa or Cambodia or medical samples from infected people anywhere in the world. Both of Victor’s possible career paths are critical to the health and well being of humans. I have no preference between the two. He will choose. I await his next report card.
By the way, supporting Victor and the fabulous people who are educating him and will supervise his eventual contribution to the welfare of the human race costs a mere $8 per month. You can get involved and adopt such a critter here.
It’s fun. Believe me: it will make you feel good if you do.
Horning in on Zoe's territory:
Horning in on Zoe's territory:
Annamaria - Monday