Giant rats with tiny backpacks being trained for rescue missions in disaster zones

The little helpers are “just as trainable as dogs" the lead researcher said.

File photo.

Maeve McTaggartSunday World

A crew of rats have been trained to carry out search-and-rescue missions in disaster zones.

The giants rodents wear tiny tech-filled backpacks as they sniff out missing people, alerting waiting humans through a little switch they wear around their necks.

The non-profit company APOPO spoke to RTÉ about their hero rats being trained in Tanzania.

The little helpers are “just as trainable as dogs" the lead researcher said.

“They've got great sense of smell and they're small size and natural agility should hopefully make them really good in this scenario where they could squeeze in small spaces and get closer to any victims," Dr Donna Kean told RTÉ.

A strong sense of smell, tiny size and agility allow them to squeeze into small spaces, with rats already trained to detect bombs and tuberculosis outbreaks.

The special rats – African Giant Pouched Rats – can weigh up to 1.5 kilogrammes and can live up to eight to ten years in captivity.

It takes nine months to a year to train the little rodents, with them then ready to head into disaster zones like earthquakes.

The hero rats will sniff out a trapped victim and trigger a ‘microswitch’ by pulling the ball attached to the tiny vest they’re wearing to communicate with humans on the outside.

They then return to their release point to get food when the handler activates a beeper signal.

Once they have wrapped up their Tanzanian trials, they will head to Turkey before potentially being mobilised in response to natural disasters, RTÉ reports.

Last year, another hero rat made headlines when he won an award for detecting landmines.

Little Magawa had a five-year career sniffing out 71 explosive devices and saving Cambodian people.

He went into retirement last year, though not before he mentored some new rat recruits.

Today's Headlines

More Real Life

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos