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Crime / JusticeI’m Jonathan Hafetz, an ACLU lawyer trying to represent a U.S. citizen being secretly detained by the Trump administration. AMA

Dec 13th 2017 by aclu • 12 Questions • 238 Points

My short bio: Christophe has led APOPO's team for the past two decades and has many years of management experience in East Africa. Christophe holds an MSc in Product Development & Development Sciences and developed much of APOPO's technical apparatus. He has guided APOPO from a wild idea into an award-winning NGO with operations in Angola, Cambodia, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe.

My Proof: https://twitter.com/HeroRATs/status/938807998033653760 only joking, real proof - https://twitter.com/HeroRATs/status/938458997149126659

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. We’re on a mission to develop detection rats technology to provide solutions for global problems and inspire positive social change. It was our 20th birthday last month!

About Landmine Detection Rats: APOPO's landmine detection rats have helped sniff out more than 100,000 mines, returned 22 million square meters of land, and helped free nearly one million people from the threat of explosives.

About Tuberculosis Detection Rats: APOPO's tuberculosis detection rats have safely sniffed nearly than 450,000 sputum samples identifying 12,000 additional cases of TB that were missed by clinics.

Support Us: You can make a donation or adopt a HeroRAT at our website.

Watch: The Bomb-Sniffing Rats Saving Lives In Mozambique

Ask me anything you like about APOPO, detection rats, animal training, landmines, tuberculosis, innovation, non-profits, or living in Africa for the past twenty years.

Christophe will begin answering questions at 1pm EST. /u/APOPO_Robin and /u/c_herorat will be helping out in the comments too.

EDIT - Thanks for all your interesting questions - and you can always find us on our Facebook page or via email if you have more questions. I am mostly in Morogoro, Tanzania, where it's going to 11 pm now, but still 30 degrees celsius! /u/APOPO_Robin and /u/C_HeroRAT will answer any other questions you have. Thanks again.

Q:

According to The Daily Beast’s source, the U.S. citizen was initially taken into custody by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the mostly Kurdish local proxy that the American military is using to fight ISIS on the ground in Syria. That source said the Kurds then turned the captive over to American forces. It is not clear where the American is currently being held, nor if the International Committee of the Red Cross has had access to him.

That source said the Kurds then turned the captive over to American forces.

Seems legit.

A:

Hello! I immediately fell in love with APOPO as soon as I discovered you guys and I've been a monthly contributor ever since. Thanks for doing what you do.

1) Is there any way for a traveler to see your workers and rats in action? Perhaps a volunteer mission?

2) I requested hi-res photos of your trainers and rats in action to hang at my home for visitors to see in hopes of encouraging them to get involved. Your people totally hooked it up. Animal-lovers dig it, but since most people think rats are gross, what other ways would you suggest to help turn people on to your cause?

Thanks


Q:

Here's the Daily Beast article that broke this story

A:

Thank you so much for the kind words. Yes, travelers can see our rats in action - most convenient is in our training centre in Tanzania or in our recently opened APOPO visitors centre in Siem Reap. Thanks also for promoting us with the photos! We appreciate any initiative which will support us, be it word to mouth, be it organizing a group or a visible event - sure everyone has skills to contribute. You can also adopt a HeroRAT which makes for a great holiday gift!


Q:

are your humans assigned their own rat to work with, or do they rotate assignments?

A:

Usually they have their own rat, but for example when staff members take their holidays, their colleagues will be happy to take over. This also happens when rats move between countries - they will encounter new trainers.


Q:

Is there a registry or memorial of hero rats who have died in the service?

A:

We had a ceremonial burial in Cambodia this year when one rat passed away due to illness. It was attended by all trainers in Cambodia.


Q:

I love APOPO! Thank you for doing this AMA. I have always wondered why landmines and TB? These are obviously worthy causes but how and why were they selected against the many other applications that the rats could have been trained for?

A:

When we started my colleague Bart Weetjens got intrigued by the landmine problem and after an analysis immediately found that the detection of the landmines is the hardest part. Rats came up as part of a systematic study and brainstorm comparing possible detection techniques. After a feasibility study we moved to Tanzania where our University had a collaboration in the field of rodent research. However, Tanzania has no landmines, but is one of the high burden TB countries. Again - detection was the main problem, as 30% of the people dying from TB are never diagnosed.


Q:

Could you put tiny cameras on them with microphone/speaker/gps?

A:

Yes we can! We did an initial experiment some years ago in first study to use rats for search and rescue. Meanwhile the technology has evolved and we are talking with a Search and Rescue group as well as with engineers to develop the technology for this same purpose, using infrared cameras to find survivors, which would also have to include GPS and communication equipment, all in a small backpack. Currently we are testing a small electronic ball-pull switch around the neck to see if rats can give just an electronic response in situations where we could not observe their behavior.


Q:

Where do you get these rodents of unusual size? Florin?

A:

Cricetomys or African Giant Pouched Rats are quite common in Sub-Saharan Africa, from East to West. One can see them mostly roaming at night, during daytime they mostly spend underground. However, we only train rats which have been bred in-house.


Q:

What's your favorite rat story?

A:

Hehe...I will never forget the moment when we just started our feasibility study in Belgium, where a loose rat walked up to a heap of sand. What it didn't know but what I witnessed was a cat walking up the same heap of sand on the other side. They met each other on top of the pile...nose to nose..I thought damn, this is not good for ratty! But what happened, the rat blew its pouches and the cat ran off scared like hell.


Q:

How do you ensure that your rats stay disease free?

A:

We have daily visual checks of the rats, and weekly thorough checks by a qualified veterinary doctor. Being native to tropical climates, they are well adapted to the environment they work in.


Q:

What's the danger of the rats triggering the landmines and how do you mitigate that?

A:

There is virtually no danger, since rats are too light to set off a landmine. However, demining is fundamentally dangerous work and we take every precaution to keep our rats and human staff safe. We follow strict safety procedures in line with international protocols. We’re aware that a problem could strike at any moment and we keep a trained medic on site at all times.


Q:

Is there anyway or plans to expand APOPO into other countries / areas that have mines?

A:

We are currently preparing for operations in both Zimbabwe and Colombia. In Zimbabwe the rats will help save elephants, as the 37 km long mine belt we have been allocated, is in the midst of one of the largest trans-frontier wildlife parks in the world, and is actually a wildlife corridor. Colombia on the other hand, is littered with improvised explosive devices.


Q:

When the rats "retire" do staff adopt them?

A:

No, we have our own retirement home for the rats. It are spacious cages in open air, but covered from sun and rain, where they have different levels so they can climb and have toys to play. We make sure they receive good food every day and live out their days in comfort with us!


Q:

how does rat sniffing and detection dffer from that of dogs? aren't rats at risk to contract TB because of sniffing?

A:

Both animals are so sensitive that we lack the analytical equipment to measure difference in sensitivity. Rats have more functional genes for the olfactory system than any other mammal. The difference comes in mainly that dogs are a bit more intelligent, can do more independent work - but are quite attached to their trainers. Rats instead like very much repetitive work and it takes less specialized skills to train a rat.