‘It’s rather unusual. They are so agile, so good at moving through all kinds of different environments,’ explained Dr. Donna Kean, a scientist.
A novel project is training rats to be released into earthquake debris while wearing tiny backpacks equipped with location trackers and microphones in order to locate trapped earthquake survivors. The “Hero Rats” project, led by Dr. Donna Kean, a 33-year-old research scientist from Glasgow, has so far trained seven rats to navigate disaster sites and track people trapped in rubble in order to communicate with relief workers and be rescued in time. Currently, scientists outfit the rats with homemade prototype backpacks containing a microphone and send them into mock debris over a two-week training period.
I was interviewed for Science news by the excellent @RobinKD about our work training African giant pouched rats to find trapped humans as part of our Search & Rescue project @HeroRATshttps://t.co/Z2NtPNjQ3l— Dr Donna Kean (@donnaeilidhkean) December 17, 2021
According to Wales Online, during real earthquakes, rescue teams will use specialist backpacks containing microphones, video equipment, and location trackers to communicate with survivors. Kean, who studied ecology at Strathclyde University before completing an MA at the University of Kent and a Ph.D. at Stirling University, has been working with the nonprofit organization APOPO on the Hero Rats project in Morogoro, Tanzania, for a year. When the rodents are sent to Turkey, which is prone to earthquakes, they will reportedly work with a search and rescue team, according to GAE.
**Please retweet** Do you want to help train these heroes🐭 to find trapped humans, fight wildlife smuggling, detect disease & clean up the environment? If you have a PhD & experience with animals apply now #weirdjobs #jobsearch #job #research #sciencehttps://t.co/tVj9XgSTYV pic.twitter.com/QLxzO0TEc3— Dr Donna Kean (@donnaeilidhkean) May 30, 2022
Despite her initial interest in primate behavior, Kean was fascinated by how quickly rats can be trained. She described rats as “sociable” creatures, saying it is a common misconception that they are unsanitary, and she believes the work being done will save lives. A total of 170 rats are being trained for projects such as landmines and tuberculosis. It is hoped that they will be able to detect brucellosis, an infectious disease that affects livestock. Rats, due to their nimble and agile nature, never set off a landmine, making them ideal for disaster relief efforts.
I train these clever creatures to save victims trapped in collapsed buildings after earthquakes. We kit them out with a rat backpack, and train them to trigger a switch when they find a victim & come back for a tasty treat 🐀#herosnotpests #science #weirdjobs #WomenInSTEM pic.twitter.com/728IQv70NX— Dr Donna Kean (@donnaeilidhkean) May 26, 2022
“Rats would be able to get into small spaces to get to victims buried in rubble. We have not been in a real situation yet, we have got a mock debris site,” Kean explained. “With the new backpacks, we will be able to hear from where we are based and where the rat is, inside the debris, and we may be able to communicate with victims through the rat.”
“When we get the new backpacks we will be able to hear from where we are based and where the rat is, inside the debris. We have the potential to speak to victims through the rat.”
“A colleague is a seamstress, she makes the backpacks, she’s very talented, and we’re getting custom-made backpacks with video recorders, microphones, and location transmitters,” Kean explained.
APOPO is training HeroRATs for Search & Rescue. The rats have a great sense of smell, and can move through small spaces to search for survivors. The basic behavioral sequence is: search for victim, pull ball to communicate victim has been found, then return to trainer for reward. pic.twitter.com/gAaBj8zMB5— APOPO (@HeroRATs) April 5, 2022
“It’s quite unusual. They are so agile, they are so good at moving through all kinds of different environments,” she continued. “They are perfect for search and rescue-type work. They can live off anything. They are very good at surviving in different environments, which just shows how suitable they are for search and rescue work.”
“They are very trainable; the first stage is to train them to return to base point—they respond to a beep; there is a common misconception that they are dirty and unsanitary,” Kean explained.
“They are well cared for with us, they are sociable animals. We hope it will be implemented, we are partnered with a search and rescue team in Turkey. It would just be a case of as soon as an earthquake happens, arranging the transport. We are the only organisation working with this species, there are other organisations training dogs. We hope it will save lives, the results are really promising.”