Monday, November 9, 2015

Update: Victor the HeroRat at Six Months Old

Annamaria on Monday

Readers who have followed this blog over the last several months will have met Victor, my adopted HeroRat.   I heard about the work of APOPO from a blogpost of Michael’s last April.  They are a Belgian NGO based in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Cambodia  that trains African giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis.   I adopted one of the critters at the cost of $8 per month, named him Victor, and designated that he would work in mine detection.  From time to time, I update everyone on Victor’s progress so far.   He is six months old now.  Here is the latest report:

Victor just sniffed out its first deactivated landmine!  

The landmine that Victor detected is an "anti-personnel" type, and is only the first of many, many more that it will help APOPO's mine action teams detect in the years to come.  And because the mine contained TNT, Victor needed almost no additional training to be able to correctly identify it.   Starting at this stage of training, Victor will work in areas of APOPO's training field that contain some partially exposed and some completely buried, deactivated landmines. 

There are many different types of landmines that endanger civilian populations around the world.  Some are "anti-personnel" and some are "anti-vehicle," but nearly all of them contain the explosive compound, TNT.   Anti-personnel landmines pose a direct threat to human and animal life in dozens of countries and are specifically manufactured to target people.  The anti-vehicle mines are used primarily during wartime to prevent the trucks and tanks of the conflicting groups from entering an area. 

Manufacturers of landmines use TNT because it is stable, even in moist environments, meaning that the landmines can remain active in the soil for many decades, a hidden threat to anyone who passes by or wants to develop the land. Once through with the full training, Victor and the other rats in its team will be able to detect not just mines, but also other explosive remnants of war such as bombs and small arms and ammunition.

 Victor’s training is taking place simulated minefield in Tanzania, where, in collaboration with Tanzanian Peoples Defense Force,  APOPO has developed a beautiful 240,000 square meters training ground at the foothills of the Uluguru Mountains.  Victor and his trainers work among more than 1,500 deactivated landmines.  The field also contains grass, rocks, insects, and many other distractions.  There Victor is becoming accustomed to the challenges he will face someday in a real minefield.

Victor would like to introduce you to one of its favorite trainers at APOPO in Tanzania, Mark Shukuru.

This province of Mozambique now mine-free thanks to HeroRats like my Victor!

It is not just humans who suffer from unexploded mines.

In the past, Victor’s predecessor HeroRats and their APOPO handlers turned over a mine-free Gaza province to the government of Mozambique and Instituto Nacional de Desminagem (IND).  APOPO's Mine Detection Rats and its Mozambique country staff accomplished this feat more than a year before the deadline!

APOPO is now preparing their heroes—humans and rats—to go to Cambodia, where unexploded ordinance has taken its greatest toll in history.  40,000 Cambodians, over one-third of them children, have lost limbs.  There are an estimated 4 to 6 million mines and unexploded ordinance in that small country.   Perhaps, once he is fully trained, Victor will go there to help.  Whether or not he himself does, his APOPO teammates will soon be there, saving lives and limbs. 

If you want to help by keeping Victor’s HeroRat confreres in mangoes and peanuts and their trainers and managers in business, you can do so by going here:

VIVA Victor.  Onward to Victory.


  1. Amen to your post. You have such interesting adventures.

    1. Thank you, Lil. I am so impressed but the way the Apopo staff have discovered this benign way to clear mines. And by the way they are developing their staff, not from expats, but from local people. They deserve any little of bit publicity I can give them.

  2. Fabulous, Annamaria! Thank you for sharing Victor's progress, and for reminding us about this encouraging step toward a world free of land mines (live or otherwise).

    1. Thank you, Susan. Michael's original post pointed out the bad reputation of rats in general and how this service to human kind differs from that. I really do think of them differently now.

  3. Victor is a hero rat. If only humans would stop trying to find gruesome ways to kill each other.

    1. Right, Jono. As species go, we are far from benign. The overwhelming majority of us are. But then there are those who use all their innate cleverness in the worst possible ways. I wish we could gather them up and send them all to another planet. Preferably an ugly one.

  4. God bless the hero rats and little children.

  5. Good for Victor and his fellow hero rats. It will take a lot of them to clear land mines in Southeast Asia.

    Yes, I agree. Let's send the warmakers to another planet - with the weapons.