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Rescue rats with backpacks trained to sniff out earthquake survivors

Rats are being trained to be sent into earthquake debris wearing tiny backpacks so that rescue teams can talk to survivors.

Daniel the rat is being trained to be sent into earthquake debris wearing a tiny backpack containing a microphone to allow rescue teams to communicate with survivors - APOPO/SWNS

APOPO/SWNS Daniel the rat is being trained to be sent into earthquake debris wearing a tiny backpack containing a microphone to allow rescue teams to communicate with survivors - APOPO/SWNS

Seven rats have been trained so far, taking two weeks to get them up to speed.

Prototype backpacks containing a microphone are being used at the moment, with rats being sent into mock debris.

Specialist backpacks containing microphones and video gear as well as location trackers will be created to allow rescue teams to communicate with survivors during real earthquakes.

Research scientist Dr Donna Kean, 33, from Glasgow, who is working on the project, said: “Rats would be able to get into small spaces to get to victims buried in rubble.

Dr Donna Kean with Jo the rat, one of seven rodents trained so far to carry prototype backpacks with a microphone into mock earthquake zones - APOPO/SWN Provided by The Telegraph Dr Donna Kean with Jo the rat, one of seven rodents trained so far to carry prototype backpacks with a microphone into mock earthquake zones - APOPO/SWN

“We have not been in a real situation yet, we have got a mock debris site.

“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.”

The rodents are trained to respond to a beep, which calls them back to the base.

They are so nimble that they have never set off a landmine and their agility makes them ideal for use in disaster zones.

“They are perfect for search and rescue-type work,” she said, adding that the “sociable animals” 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.

“There is a misconception they are dirty and unhygienic. They are well looked after with us.”

Food reward syringes used in the rat training project - APOPO/SWNS Provided by The Telegraph Food reward syringes used in the rat training project - APOPO/SWNS

Dr Kean has been based in Morogoro in Tanzania, east Africa, for one year, working with non-profit organisation APOPO for the “Hero Rats” project.

The rodents will work in the field when they are sent to Turkey, which is prone to earthquakes, to work with a search and rescue team.

Dr Kean was originally interested in primate behaviour, but became fascinated by how quickly rats can learn and be trained.

In total 170 rats are being trained for projects including those associated with landmines and TB. It is hoped they could sniff out Brucellosis, an infectious disease which impacts livestock.

“We are the only organisation working with this species, there are other organisations training dogs,” Dr Kean said.

“We hope it will save lives, the results are really promising.” 

Reference:Telegraph reporters  

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