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BusinessI am Daniel Riedo, CEO of Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre -- AMA

Dec 6th 2016 by DanielRiedo • 35 Questions • 352 Points

My short bio: Dr. Cindy Fast holds a Ph.D. and Master’s degree in Psychology specialising in Learning and Behaviour and Behavioural Neuroscience from UCLA. Cindy has more than ten years of experience conducting behavioural research with a variety of species including rats, mice, pigeons, hermit crabs, and horses.

In September Cindy moved from the US to take on her new role at APOPO. Dr. Fast plans to use her knowledge and expertise to optimize training and performance of the HeroRATs.

My Proof: Dr. Cindy Fast with Jones the HeroRAT.

About APOPO: APOPO is a non-profit that trains rats to save lives. Based in Tanzania, the organisation has pioneered the development of scent detection rats, nicknamed HeroRATs.

APOPO's landmine detection rats have helped sniff out more than 100,000 mines helping to free nearly one million people from the threat of explosives.

APOPO's tuberculosis detection rats have safely sniffed more than 350,000 sputum samples identifying 10,000 additional cases of TB that were missed by clinics.

APOPO website - https://www.apopo.org/en/

Adopt or gift a HeroRAT - https://support.apopo.org/en/adopt

Donate - https://support.apopo.org/en/donate

Dr. Fast will begin answering questions at 12pm EST.

EDIT - It's late night in Tanzania and Dr Fast has had to retire for the evening. Our Fundraising Manager, Robin Toal, will take over from here on out but will need to report back on any particularly tricky questions. Big thanks for all your questions, it's been a blast!

EDIT 2 - It's time to say goodnight (UK here). I'll pop back in the morning and will ask Dr Fast to answer a selection of the questions we didn't get to tonight. Thanks for your questions and if you're looking for a holiday gift you can't go wrong with a HeroRAT adoption.

Q:

What is it like to have the pressure of a several hundred year old brand and the responsibility to shape it in years to come? How do you approach this, and what do you hope to achieve?

A:

Are there many landmines with tuberculosis?


Q:

The legacy and patrimony of the brand is a great concern for me. But before that, the people composing the Manufacture is really important. Preserving the transmission of the know-how is my top priority.

A:

Please don't give them any ideas!


Q:

How does a CEO of a luxury watch company spend the day at work?

A:

Holy shit. This is amazing. Thanks for all your hard work. I haven't checked out the website yet, but just dream reading the short bio, it sounds like you (and APOPO) are doing amazing work.

My questions:

Which countries does your organization operate in? Are there some countries the rats work better than others in?

Also, they look adorable (and HUGE). How are they to work with and train? Do they pick things up faster or slower than other animals you've worked with and do you have a favorite? :)


Q:

Traveling or hosting meetings

A:

Thanks! APOPO currently works in Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia, and Tanzania. We aim to start TB detection in Ethiopia and landmine detection in Zimbabwe next year.

We are focused on solving humanitarian problems in developing countries. TB detection works the same wherever we are in the world but landmine clearance is affected by the different environments. In Cambodia we have discovered that the surface tends to be rockier than in the sub-Saharan countries we have worked previously but the rats quickly overcame these new challenges.

The rats are truly a pleasure to work with (if you're lucky, you'll even get a sweet lick or two) and they are quick and eager learners. It's a bit difficult to compare how quickly they learn compared to other species because I've never trained any other animals to detect landmines or tuberculosis! Overall, I'd say they are pretty similar to a dog or typical labrat. I try to make it a point to not develop favorites, but because Nala was the very first rat I met when I arrived, I think she stole a special place in my heart.


Q:

What do you wear on your wrist?

A:

There are special cemeteries and memorials for dogs who do military work and such. Do you hope to see us give the same amount of recognition to specially trained rats?


Q:

I am wearing the Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 equipped with the caliber Jaeger-LeCoultre 176. Here is my wristshot : http://imgur.com/a/kI2Yo

A:

You’ll be pleased to know that our staff began the tradition of burying the HeroRATs that passed away in the early days. Our staff in different countries have different cultures and they each honour the animals that have passed in their own way. In Tanzania our staff will often sing a song or two whilst in Cambodia our staff they hand build wooden grave markers and take a moment of silence.


Q:

What is Jaeger's innovation you're most proud of?

A:

Do the rats enjoy their work?


Q:

The timelapse reduction of the Hybris Mechanica Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon, the thinnest minute repeater wristwatch in production and it also incorporates a flying tourbillon. We have integrated a silent-timelapse reduction feature into the strike train. This eliminates the suspenseful pause between the chiming of the hours and minutes when there are no quarters to be struck — that is, between the first and 14th minute of each hour.

A:

It's hard to speculate about what enjoyment is for a non-human animal, but if I may, I think the answer would be YES! The rats are always eager to work, they greet us and they willingly perform their duties. It is quite a sight to see a young rat in mine detection training "happily" following their trainer through the field after a session, without a harness or any leash! I think if the rats could wag their tales like a dog then they certainly would when they see us and go to work.


Q:

Are you sure you have time for this?

A:

Hello Dr. Fast, thank you for doing this AMA.

I've recently been reading more into APOPO and find it really interesting. I was wondering if you could explain more about the process of training the rats for detect mines and TB. I also have a few other questions.

  1. How do African giant-pouched rats compare to the type of rat that can be bought in a pet store, as far as training and intelligence go?

  2. Was any research done using different types of animals for detecting TB and mines? How did APOPO come to using African giant-pouched rats specifically?

  3. What other experiences have led you to working in this field?

  4. How much time do the rats spend out looking for mines or in the lab detecting TB?

  5. How accurate are the rats in detecting mines and TB?

Thanks again!


Q:

Luxury is all about having time!

A:

Thanks for your questions!

How do African giant-pouched rats compare to the type of rat that can be bought in a pet store, as far as training and intelligence go?

We follow standard learning & behavior procedures to train our rats, much like you might experience when training a dog. We start with clicker training where the rat learns that a click sound leads to a food reward by repeatedly pairing these two events. After that, we then shape the rats behavior by rewarding successive approximations towards the target by making the click when the rat does something close to what we really want. Finally, the rat learns that it will only be rewarded for performing that specific behavior (gently scratching for landmines or hovering over a sample for TB) in the presence of the specific odor we want them to detect (explosives or TB).

Was any research done using different types of animals for detecting TB and mines? How did APOPO come to using African giant-pouched rats specifically?

Mine Detection Dogs have been in use for decades but they are quite expensive and sometimes struggle in the hot and dry environments in Africa that APOPO was initially focused on. Our Founder, Bart Weetjens, had a background in breeding rats and during his research discovered an old article detailing how hamsters were successfully trained to detect TNT. From there, it was just a case of finding a suitable rodent in the region. As it happened, no more than two weeks later our Founder spotted a local man walking a Giant African Pouched rat on a leash which told us that these giant rats could be domesticated.

Some other great reasons why we selected rats was because they are easily trainable, cheap to maintain, easy to transport between locations, excellent sense of smell, highly resistant to disease and they are adapted to the environments we work in.

What other experiences have led you to working in this field?

I grew up surrounded by animals and enjoyed every minute around them. After earning my Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a Neuroscience Concentration, I then went to UCLA where I earned my Master's and Ph.D. While at UCLA, I had the great opportunity to work with pigeons and hermit crabs, in addition to rats. From there, I served as post-doctoral associate in a lab examining the neruobiology of smell in rodents. In the end, I think my whole life has actually led up to this particular work!

How much time do the rats spend out looking for mines or in the lab detecting TB?

Our rats spend less than an hour (about 40 minutes) a day in the field or lab to save lives.

How accurate are the rats in detecting mines and TB?

Our tuberculosis detection rats have increased TB detection rates by 40% in the clinics where we work.

Our mine detection rats have been proven to be at least as accurate as the approved internationally approved mine clearance methods. They are significantly quicker too as they only detect explosives and ignore scrap metal contamination which makes traditional demining with a metal detector so slow.

All of our research is peer reviewed and available online here - https://www.apopo.org/en/contact/press/publications


Q:

What is your favorite watch?

A:

Have any of the trained animals accidentally set a mine off? Do they get a funeral?


Q:

My favorite watch is the Reverso Tribute Duoface, timeless design and very useful with the two time zones. Luckily I have it here as well : http://imgur.com/a/ooVFb

A:

None of our animals have ever been harmed in the line of duty. The beauty of the rats work is that they are actually too light to set off traditional landmines so their well-being is not threatened when they go to work.

Our rats always receive a local funeral. I've answered in more detail above.


Q:

With Jaeger-LeCoultre's great selection of luxury watches, I think it would be fair to assume that your target demographic skews a bit older. My question is: what do you believe is the best way to reach a younger demographic and convince them that your watches are a great investment?

Thank you very much for your time! The Reverso is honestly one of the most beautiful watches I've seen.

A:

I reside on an island which is being overrun with invasive species. Since you are starting to move the rats into new territories around Asia, I am wondering if you spay/neuter them in case they get loose?


Q:

Thank you for your kind words on the Reverso.

Regarding younger people, it is important of showing openness like engaging here with an AMA.

A:

Great question! Yes, indeed! Our rats are spayed/neutered before they are transported to operational sites outside of Tanzania, although none have ever chose to run away.


Q:

Hello Mr. Riedo, thank you for taking the time. I love JLC and especially the MUT 38 which is imo the greatest watch in terms of value for money ever created, but my question for you is:

If you had to buy one watch other than JLC, what would it be?

A:

Appreciated. Please give the rats a hug from me next time you see them. :-)


Q:

As I've said above, the Lange 1 would be a good choice

A:

Will do!


Q:

Second question: date or no-date?

A:

ROUS's? I don't believe they exist?


Q:

It all depends of the watch!

A:

Nice Princess Bride reference! We're big fans of the film, as you'd expect.


Q:

Working in the auto industry the question most burning on my mind is what sort of vehicle you drive?

A:

How long does it take to train a rat?


Q:

Professional : Mercedes, private : Porsche

A:

Our rats typically reach accreditation standards within 9 months for TB detection and slightly longer for landmine detection.


Q:

Hello Mr. Riedo, and thank you for taking the time to do this AMA!

As a designer, I've always considered Jaeger-LeCoultre to be timeless. What do recent collaborations with contemporary designers like Christian Louboutin or Marc Newson say about the direction that Jaegar-LeCoultre is moving in?

I will be graduating with a degree in industrial design next year. What advice would you give someone who's trying to get into the luxury goods industry, specifically in product design?

Once again, thank you for your time!

A:

How are the rats bred? Do you pair them up with an eye toward any specific characteristics, or randomly? Is the breeding population separate from the working population? Any interesting / cute highlights from rat childhood?

As a rat owner myself I love APOPO and think your work is so awesome and cute :)


Q:

Creative partnerships are only pop up stories – our wristwatches are 100% design, develop and produce in-house. Best of luck for your new career. Have fun and stay an independent mind.

A:

We first introduce the mating pairs to one another in separate cages positioned next to one another. If the two like each other, they will make soft noises and sort of paw at each other through the cage (sort of like they are playing patty-cake). After the rats have shown this behavior, we then release them together in a large cage where they have a clay pot to rest, wooden toys to climb on, and plenty of food to eat. We leave them together for 30 days before removing the male and then closely monitoring the female for signs that she might be pregnant.

Our breeding colony is housed in a quiet building at our main headquarters, separate from the rest of our rats.

I was incredibly fortunate to witness one of our newest HeroRATs being born just last week. For me, that was a particularly special moment.


Q:

What's your favourite non-JLC watch?

A:

Is there a possibility of training these rats to detect cancers?


Q:

Maybe Lange

A:

Absolutely! We already have initial discussions in the works to determine the feasibility, what types of samples (for example, urine or breath) would be best-suited, and what cancers might be best for our rats to detect. We are aiming towards cancers that currently do not have reliable or cost-effective screening techniques and for which life-saving treatment exists if only the cancer is actually detected.


Q:

First off, thank you for sending me your wonderful catalogue! I'm 17 right kow, and it will probably be a while before I'll be able to get a JLC. What are some of your favorite more affordable watches that I should look at until then?

A:

How did you get involved in this field of work?


Q:

As I've said above, I would go with a Classic Reverso that I would engrave.

A:

Thanks for asking the first question!

I have always loved animals and enjoyed learning more about them. While working on my bachelor's degree, I had a really outstanding professor invite me to join his lab where he was looking at how rats solve various problems to gain a greater understanding about the process of learning. After joining his lab, I never looked back!


Q:

Guess he better get off reddit and start moving some lawns ;)

A:

Are there any major differences between giant pouched rats and ordinary domestic rats, behavior-wise?


Q:

Dear Ramones, coming from another group, which I am sure you know, you must guess that After Sales & quality improvement is among my biggest priorities. I am happy to hear that you did not have any problem with your Jaeger-LeCoultre.

A:

I've only noticed very slight differences in behavior. Our African Giant Pouched Rats tend to be a bit more social with their human counterparts. That's not to say that domestic or typical lab rats aren't social towards humans by any means. Maybe it's more patience; the giant rats tend to be more relaxed and calculated in their motions. Perhaps it is driven by the underlying differences in life expectancy with domestic rats only living 3-5 years and giant rats living 8 or more years. Of course, there's the major difference of hoarding scrumptious food in their pouched cheeks (where they get their names) which domestic rats don't have the opportunity to try!


Q:

Why should I chose a Master Reserve de Marche above an IWC Portuguese Hand Wound?

A:

How long do these trained rats live for?

How much does it cost to train a rat?

Do you grow attached to these rats?

How many rats have died from landmines and do they have a memorial?

Do you get to take the retired ones home and keep them as pets?

What was the most intelligent rat you ever trained?

Where would soldiers keep these rats when out in the field?


Q:

For the Manufacture movement that makes the watch unique from a design perspective

A:

How long do these trained rats live for?

Around 7-8 years normally.

How much does it cost to train a rat?

Around $7,000 each which sounds expensive but they are significantly cheaper than the alternative solutions.

Do you grow attached to these rats?

Absolutely! Many of us are animal lovers and every one of our staff will have their favourite HeroRAT. They are fun, sociable, and inquisitive creatures meaning it is hard not to develop bonds with them.

How many rats have died from landmines and do they have a memorial?

Not a single rat has ever been hurt by a landmine. They are too light to trigger mines and operate under strict safety conditions.

Do you get to take the retired ones home and keep them as pets?

Our retired rats are kept with all of their other HeroRAT buddies rather than being separated. We don't tend to adopt them as we want to ensure that their years of hard work are thoroughly rewarded with expert care and mountains of great food.

What was the most intelligent rat you ever trained?

Intelligence can be a bit tricky to quantify. Because I've only been with APOPO a few months, I'm afraid I don't have any examples with our Giant African Pouched Rats. For me, it would probably be a lab rat that I worked with at UCLA. At first, she appeared to be learning more slowly than all of the others - until I watched what she was doing during her training session. Turns out she had learned the most clever solution to what I thought should be a chellenging task. After changing a few things in the cage to prevent her from doing her "little tricks" she quickly caught up to the performance of all of the other rats and even beat them to the finish line (meaning she mastered the task before everyone else). She was quite a special rat to work with.

Where would soldiers keep these rats when out in the field?

APOPO is focused on humanitarian demining in post-conflict areas and as such we employ local civilian staff to clear mines. Typically we will establish a small office and base for the HeroRATs near to where we are clearing mines.


Q:

What's your favorite piece in your collection that is not a JLC?

A:

This may sound dumb. BUT are the rats you work with smarter than the average rat? Bigger so I'm assuming bigger brains? If so wouldn't that make them highly intelligent?


Q:

A Lange watch

A:

Good question! Yes, our rats are definitely larger than typically rats and also have larger brains. As a neuroscientist, I can tell you that a larger brain doesn't necessarily translate to greater intelligence. Intelligence is vey difficult to define, especially among non-verbal, non-human species. From what I've witnessed, our rats are very similar in learning abilities to other typical rat species. The biggest difference is their lifespan, which means that they have more time to learn more things over the course of their lives.


Q:

Does Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre perform market data analysis on it's clientele (such as average household income, brand preferences, etc)?

A:

I'm a big fan of APOPO so thanks for doing this AMA. My question is what is next for APOPO? Are you going to train the rats to detect new things?


Q:

Every brand is doing market research as in any marketing department

A:

Absolutely! We have a very active and growing Research & Development department that is constantly exploring new avenues for our rats to use their amazing sense of smell in solving pressing global humanitarian problems. We have recently started a collaboration with the Endangered Wildlife Trust on a project that is funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Services to train our rats to detect wildlife and hardwoods illegally smuggled out of Africa in shipping containers. We are also exploring possibilities for the rats to detect food-bourne illnesses (such as salmonella), diseases in animals (for example brucella infection or bovine TB) and other human diseases (various cancers and even Alzheimer's). There's A LOT of potential for our sniffer rats to put their noses to good use!


Q:

Can you gift me a watch?

Ok.. seriously. Which watches apart from JLC-ones do you admire/respect the most? Do you have a personal 'grail' watch you long for?

A:

So what does rat do when it finds a mine under sand or something? How can you tell it has found something?


Q:

The Lange 1 is a very nice piece

A:

We originally trained our rats to pause for a few seconds above the mine but if you’ve ever handled a rat you’ll know they don’t enjoy staying still! We now train them to lightly scratch above the surface of the earth. You can watch a video of exactly how it works here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UE94Sxp6mY8


Q:

Does each rat have its name? How can you tell them apart?

A:

Every single rat has a name with most of them being named by our local trainers at our HQ in Tanzania. We have a few soccer players (Ramsey, Ozil, Drogba, Adebayor, Lukaku, Kompany, Mourinho, Wenger etc), some Star Wars rats (Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia), and some celebrities too (Jon Stewart, Taylor Swift, Malala).

Our rats either have their own home environment or share cage with another rat which are labelled. Each of the rats have their own unique markings, behaviours, and relationships with our staff and we don't normally have any problem telling them apart.


Q:

Oh man- can you post a photo of Jon Stewart the rat? Mr. Stewart (the human) is a huge animal lover and would probably love to hear he has a HeroRat named after him!

A:

We'll report back with a picture as soon as we can!


Q:

How does the rat learn to tell the difference between a mine and, say, a mine-shaped rock?

A:

Good question! Our rats are nocturnal which means they spend most of their time in the dark. As a result, they don't have very good eyesight and rely more heavily on their sense of smell. They use this incredible olfactory abilities to sniff out the landmines, rather than looking for them. This means they really don't have much trouble telling the difference between an explosive device and say a rock. This is especially helpful because most landmines are buried below the earth's surface where they can't be seen.


Q:

Do the rats get hurt when they find a land mine?

A:

Not a single rat has ever been harmed during our detection work. They are simply too light to set off landmines and operate under strict safety procedures to keep everyone safe.

You can watch a video of it here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UE94Sxp6mY8


Q:

Then it's a win/win for everyone :)

A:

We try our best to treat our rats like the heroes we believe they are.


Q:

Land mines and TB seem like two very different things to detect. Are these separate training processes or is one somehow a side-effect of the other? If it's the same, how did that come to be discovered? If it's separate, what lead you to choose those two topics for detection?

A:

Land mines and TB seem like two very different things to detect. Are these separate training processes or is one somehow a side-effect of the other? If it's the same, how did that come to be discovered? If it's separate, what lead you to choose those two topics for detection?

The process is a little bit different but shares the same principles of positive reinforcement. Our infographics explain the differences well:

https://www.apopo.org/en/mine-action/how/training https://www.apopo.org/en/tuberculosis-detection/how/training

We started out detecting landmines and later developed our tuberculosis detection rats. Tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease in the world killing more people every year than HIV / AIDS. It was expensive to treat and it was a growing problem in Africa that desperately needed a innovative solution. As humans we tend to rely on our eyes to identify medical problems whether that is looking for a rash or using a microscope. Rats however, use their sense of smell to understand the world and they are able to sniff out diseases in a fast, reliable, and accurate way, that just isn’t possible using conventional technologies.

We think there is great potential for future health applications for the HeroRATs and other scent detection animals.


Q:

Aside from the trained rats, how are they viewed around Tanzania and elsewhere? Are they seen as pests the way they're viewed in cities in the West?

A:

In general, I think Tanzanians also view the wild rat counterparts of our rats as pests. Interestingly, though, many local Tanzanians I've spoke with are very aware of the work our HeroRATs are doing and think it's amazing that the rats can do work that they themselves can't (have you ever tried to sniff out a landmine? LOL). Many of our rat trainers throughout the world shared this initial response, but once they started working with them, they realized just how delightful they are to be around. Each rat has its own personality and character and I think that makes them especially endearing to the people around them. Fortunately, our HeroRATs can serve as ambassadors for rats everywhere!


Q:

It's interesting to hear what is possible with these HeroRat's. In particular peoples relationships with these animals seems to be one of the more noticed aspects of these animals. Do you notice any of the rats more or less willing to perform as task for different people?

A:

Thanks for your question! Our rats are highly sociable animals who enjoy spending time with their human colleagues but they don’t form close bonds with specific individuals. They tend to love all their human buddies equally.

This is actually a major advantage as it means we can relocate our rats to where they’re needed without having to supply a specific trainer as well.


Q:

I watched a documentary on the topic of the landmine detecting rats. It stated that one of the benefits of using rats vs dogs is that the rat has the stamina to work much longer detecting mines vs a dog who needs to have more frequent breaks every 45mins. Is this true about the rats stamina while detecting mines?

A:

Our rats work only work 40 minutes a day as well, they have much shorter legs than dogs so it takes more energy to cover the minefield.

There are a few advantages to rats over dogs:

• cheaper to train and maintain

• easier to breed

• easier to transport between locations

• rats don’t form close bonds with individual trainers meaning they can work with anyone not a single trainer

• they are too light to trigger landmines which unfortunately does sometimes happen with mine detection dogs.


Q:

Could you (would you) make it possible for rat training to be an at-home activity for regular people with some time to spare?

I'm retiring soon and this seems like a rewarding retirement hobby. Ordinary people train dogs for the blind in heir homes. I'd like to train rats to detect TB.

I took a couple behavior mod classes in college. The rats are readily available. I would need neutered TB samples, videos or written instruction on how to do the rat training -- and a way to find out where the trained rats are needed. Perhaps trained rats would go to a central clearing house so the quality of their training could be confirmed -- and the clearing house would distribute them?

A:

Thanks for your generous offer of support! I see a few challenges with your proposal but that's not to say they couldn't be overcome. We currently breed and train all of our rats at our HQ in Tanzania and it can be difficult to source African Pouched Rats in many countries.

If you have a genuine interest in pursuing this we have an open call for applications for new projects on our website.

https://www.apopo.org/en/contact/stay-in-touch/careers


Q:

I was reading above that these giant rats live for around 8 years. Are these rats retired at a certain age? Are there any giant rat adoption policies in place, or do they end up with a handler after their years of service?

A:

We allow our rats to determine their own retirement timeline. They are normally enthusiastic and keen to start work when we arrive in the morning but when that is no longer apparent they are allowed to peacefully retire to a life of delicious food, play time with their rat buddies, regular health checks, and they are free from being woken up in the morning for work!

We don't tend to let others adopt the HeroRATs simply because we want to ensure they are treated like the heroes they are and receive the expert care they need.


Q:

Do the trained rats interact with each other? Is it different from two pet rats interacting? Do they both know they're trained?

A:

Yes, our rats get to interact with one another, especially during their free-time in the play pen, but even in their home cages they can see, hear, and smell one another. Not much different from pet rats. You can clearly see which rats seem to have an affinity for one another, which ones just tolerate each other, and which ones would rather not have to "talk" (we try to move these ones apart as soon as we identify this behavior). I'm not sure how you would be able to determine if they somehow knew that they were both trained to perform a task. I don't really notice any hints of this, whatever it might be.


Q:

This is really cool work, but, because I can't resist a pun, and despite the fact that you are probablydefinitely way smarter than me, when was the last time someone told you to think fast?

A:

I actually love these Fast puns (which are probably as frequent as you can imagine) because Fast is my married name! Far more fun and exciting than Cardwell (my maiden name), though I doubt I would feel that way if I grew up with the puns.


Q:

How do you train and reward the rats to do this kind of work?

A:

I hope you don't mind a bit of cut and paste from a similar question above. If you have any follow ups I'd be happy to answer them.

We follow standard learning & behavior procedures to train our rats, much like you might experience when training a dog. We start with clicker training where the rat learns that a click sound leads to a food reward by repeatedly pairing these two events. After that, we then shape the rats behavior by rewarding successive approximations towards the target by making the click when the rat does something close to what we really want. Finally, the rat learns that it will only be rewarded for performing that specific behavior (gently scratching for landmines or hovering over a sample for TB) in the presence of the specific odor we want them to detect (explosives or TB).


Q:

I'm going to be honest here and say these rats terrify me. How do they get so big?

A:

So sorry to hear this, I'm reasonably sure that if you met one in-person your fears would diminish! Our rats are an entirely different species (cricetomys ansorgei) than the common rat (rattus). This makes it sort of like asking how did the kangaroo get so big compared to the opossum. Our rats are still rather small in perspective to other mammals, for example, they're smaller than most cats.


Q:

Have you had any particular favorite rats that stand out in your memory? Or rat-and-handler teams?

A:

I've only been with the team for a little under 2 months now, so not much time to develop favorites. As I previously mentioned, Nala was the very first rat I met when I arrived so she's special to me.


Q:

Can you train a rat to kill?

A:

Good question! What exactly would you want the rats to kill? Without training, rats are natural enemies to mice and some have been known to be quite efficient at exterminating their foes.