Pandor praises “heroRATs” at science week launch


Science and Technology minister Naledi Pandor has praised the role of the African Giant Pouched Rat in fighting the scourge of landmines.

Speaking at the launch of National Science Week 2009 at Galeshewe Stadium in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, she said a trained rat can clear a 100m2 of landmines in half an hour while a man would take two days.

Giving an example of the real-world application of science, she said a group of Belgian and Tanzanian researchers discovered the usefulness of the African Giant Pouched Rat in detecting landmines and pulmonary tuberculosis. “These rats are now called as ‘HeroRATs`,” she told teachers and students.

Pandor says a recent estimate claimed there are currently about 100 million landmines buried in 90 countries around the world.

“It`s hoped that the HeroRATs will be able to save us from these destructive objects much faster than would otherwise have been the case. A trained rat, they say, can clear 100 m2 in half an hour, which would take a person operating a manual de-miner two days to do.

“Rats are faster than humans in other areas too. In just seven minutes, one rat can evaluate 40 samples of human sputum for tuberculosis, which is the equivalent of two days of microscopy work for a laboratory technician,” she added.

HeroRATs are currently clearing minefields in Mozambique. The rats are trained at the Sokoine University of Agriculture at Morogoro in Tanzania.

Belgian rat-fan Bart Weetjens conceived the idea in 1996 and obtained Belgian government funding the next year.   

Pic: A HeroRAT posing with a Russian TM-57 antitank landmine