Each of our rats is considered a highly valuable asset making animal welfare our top priority. They are extremely well cared for, receiving an excellent diet, regular exercise, stimulation and enrichment, and loving attention from our expert handlers.
Too light to set off landmines
When some people first hear about our work, their first thought is that the rats are used detonate the landmines they find – we can categorically state that this is not the case! The HeroRATs are too light to set off the landmines and not a single rat has ever died in a minefield. However they do occasionally die from disease, and of course, all the HeroRATs, just like us, will eventually grow old and depart this world.
All of our handlers are guided by strict procedures on correct rat handling and interaction. Handling a rat needs to be carried out firmly, yet with a gentle touch. They need to feel comfortable and secure so are picked up in a way that supports their large frame, and are held close to the body. Our rats do not like to feel exposed, thus vulnerable to predators in the wild. Rats, like many habituated animals, respond better to confident handlers.
Our HeroRATs share cages and are mostly paired with siblings, as per their natural social behavior. The kennels are lined with sets of spacious and ventilated interconnected cages that abide by international guidelines, with plenty of litter to absorb ammonia from urine and rat droppings. Each cage has a clay pot with bedding to simulate their natural underground nests. We provide all of our rats with wooden tripods in their home and play spaces, so that they can scratch them to trim nails and gnaw to keep their teeth healthy. Our HeroRAT’s teeth never stop growing. If a rat’s teeth get too long, it can affect their ability to eat and cause other health problems, so their instinct is to gnaw to grind the teeth down.
Stimulation and Enrichment
To stimulate and enrich our rats’ lives, their play cages include complexity, challenges, exercise wheels and mulch, rather than just plenty of space. Each rat gets regular scheduled time outside of their home cages in a series of large shaded play enclosures containing elevated platforms with ramps, climbing branches and ropes, tunnels, some have running wheels and different surfaces and challenges. Each play enclosure has a different layout so the rats can explore a different area and play areas each day. This is in addition to their training time each morning.
Diet and Healthcare
The HeroRAT diet consists of high quality pet pellets, fresh peanuts, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, sun-dried sardines and clean water that is regularly infused with extra vitamins and minerals to boost the rats’ immune systems.
Our expert rat handlers are trained in basic nursing care and rat first aid. Routine care includes daily observations of individual animals, weekly health inspections and regular prevention treatments for common parasites. Every week a university vet inspects the rats. When necessary, sick or injured rats are interned at the APOPO sickbay.
Retirement for a HeroRAT is typically between 7 and 8 years of age. The rats work as long as they are performing well, are happy, and pass their weekly health checks. If a rat decides to stop work, or if its performance has declined, or it is suffering from age related health problems, it is retired to its home cage. It then continues to receive its usual healthy diet, is regularly taken out to play and exercise, and continues to receive its weekly health checks until it eventually passes away. If a rat is clearly suffering in its old age or from an untreatable disease, it is humanely euthanized.