Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘rats’

Here’s a new one. Certain rats, with their renowned sense of smell, are being used in the fight against traffickers of endangered species.

The unusual rats had previously been tapped for tasks such as identifying who has tuberculosis and needs treatment. And as I noted a year ago, they have also been successful at sniffing out land mines.

Now, according to Oliver Milman the Guardian, “An elite group of African giant pouched rats will be used at ports, initially in Tanzania, to detect illegal shipments of pangolins – the world’s most trafficked animal, which has been pushed towards extinction due to the trade in its scales and skins …

“The US Fish & Wildlife Service is spending $100,000 on a pilot project that will train rats to detect the illegal items and learn to communicate this to their human handlers. The rats, which can grow up to 3ft long, have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell. …

“The Fish & Wildlife Service said it hoped that the foray into the investigation of wildlife smuggling would be the first stage of a ‘much larger project to mainstream rats as an innovative tool in combating illegal wildlife trade.’ …

“The money for rat training is part of a larger $1.2m package that will provide funding for law enforcement in Cambodia, forest patrols to reduce tiger poaching in Indonesia and sniffer dogs to unearth illegal shipments of saiga antelope horn.”

More here.

Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images
African giant pouched rats like the one seen here are being trained to investigate illegal wildlife trafficking.

Read Full Post »

I was not surprised to note in the Beatrix Potter biography I’m reading that although Potter worked hard to get rid of rat infestations in her Hill Top Farm house, she had a soft spot for rats. An artist who could draw all sorts of bugs and wildlife with meticulous care, she kept a pet rat as part of her menagerie and even wrote an indulgent story about Samuel Whiskers.

Rats turn out to be good for other things, too: for example, saving people from land mines.

Michael Sullivan writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “It’s 5:45 in the morning, and in a training field outside Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s demining rats are already hard at work. Their noses are close to the wet grass, darting from side to side, as they try to detect explosives buried just beneath the ground.

“Each rat is responsible for clearing a 200-square-meter (239-square-yard) patch of land. Their Cambodian supervisor, Hulsok Heng, says they’re good at it.

“T ‘hey are very good,’ he says. ‘You see this 200 square meters? They clear in only 30 minutes or 35 minutes. If you compare that to a deminer, maybe two days or three days. The deminer will pick up all the fragmentation, the metal in the ground, but the rat picks up only the smell of TNT.’ …

“These are not kitchen rats, but African giant pouched rats, also known as Gambian pouched rats, about 2 feet long from head to tail. Their eyesight is terrible. But their sense of smell is extraordinary. The rats can detect the presence of TNT in amounts starting at 29 grams (about 1 ounce).

“A Belgian nonprofit called Apopo began harnessing the rodents’ olfactory prowess 15 years ago. (The group also trains rats to detect tuberculosis). The organization set up a breeding program and training center in Tanzania and began deploying rats to post-conflict countries, first to Mozambique and Angola. Apopo’s Cambodia program began in April, in partnership with the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

” ‘The idea was very strange,’ says operations coordinator Theap Bunthourn. ‘Cambodian people kill rats, don’t like rats. But they’re cost-efficient, they’re easy to transport, they’re easy to train, and they don’t set off the mines because they’re too light.’ ”

Gosh, they detect TB, too? Who knew?

Read more at NPR, here.

Photo: Michael Sullivan for NPR
Victoria, a 2-year-old rat, sniffs for TNT, sticking her nose high in the air to indicate she’s found some. She is able to detect the presence of TNT at a distance of approximately half a yard.

Read Full Post »

Douglas Quenqua recently wrote in the NY Times about a study with rats that could someday lead to aids for the blind.

“Blind rats with a sensor and compass attached to their brains were able to navigate a maze as successfully as sighted rats, researchers found.

“Researchers at the University of Tokyo wanted to test whether a mammal could use allocentric sense — the awareness of one’s body relative to its environment — to replace vision. The scientists attached a geomagnetic sensor and digital compass to the visual cortices of rats with their eyes sewn shut.

“When the rats moved their heads, the sensors generated electrical impulses to tell them which direction they were facing. The rats were then trained to find pellets in various mazes.

“Within a few days, the blind rats were able to navigate the mazes as well as rats that could see. The two groups of rodents relied on similar navigation strategies. The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, could help lead to devices that help blind people independently navigate their surroundings.

“ ‘The most plausible application is to attach a geomagnetic sensor to a cane so that the blind can know the direction via tactile signals such as vibration,’ Yuji Ikegaya, a pharmacologist and co-author of the study, wrote in an email.” More here.

I couldn’t find a picture of three rats together although there were lots of drawings of three blind mice. I started thinking, Do children even know nursery rhymes anymore? I wonder what they would make of Jack, for example, who fell down “and broke his crown” and “went to bed to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper.” I know a couple kids who would have a lot of questions about that medical treatment.

Perhaps we should make a concerted effort to teach these rhymes before they are lost completely. After all, they are part of our culture, one of our many cultures.

Photo: redorbit

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: