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APOPO HeroRATs Landmine Detection

APOPO’s HeroRATs: An Innovative Approach to Landmine Detection

APOPO’s HeroRATs Landmine Detection program offers a unique solution to the longstanding problem of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Cambodia. These hidden threats result from decades of conflict and continue to cause harm long after hostilities have ended. APOPO, a nonprofit based in Belgium, uses African giant pouched rats, also known as “HeroRATs,” to detect landmines and UXO. This approach combines animal intelligence with human ingenuity, yielding a safe and effective way to clear dangerous areas.

Training and Operation of HeroRATs

The African giant pouched rats used by APOPO are trained through a reward-based system. They are taught to recognize the scent of explosives, focusing on specific chemical compounds. This training method uses positive reinforcement, encouraging the rats to stay focused on their task. Because they are light, they can detect landmines without setting them off, which makes them incredibly safe for this type of work.

In the field, trained HeroRATs are guided along designated pathways by handlers. When a rat senses the presence of explosives, it scratches the ground to signal its discovery. Human demining experts then move in to safely clear and remove the landmine. This process is efficient and helps clear large areas quickly, saving time and resources.

Benefits of Using HeroRATs in Landmine Detection

The HeroRATs program offers several key benefits over traditional landmine detection methods. These advantages make APOPO’s approach highly effective in Cambodia, where landmines and UXO are a significant issue.

Speed and Efficiency

HeroRATs can cover large areas faster than traditional methods. They ignore scrap metal and focus only on the scent of explosives. This targeted approach reduces false alarms and increases the efficiency of landmine detection. Consequently, demining teams can clear larger areas in a shorter time, making more land safe for use.


The rats are too light to trigger landmines, reducing the risk of accidental detonation. This safety feature is a significant advantage, as it eliminates the need for heavy machinery or human contact with dangerous areas. By using these rats, APOPO minimizes the risk to human life during landmine detection.


Training and maintaining HeroRATs is less expensive than using mechanical equipment or employing large teams of human deminers. This cost advantage allows APOPO to maximize its resources, enabling it to clear more landmines with a limited budget. As a result, the organization can expand its operations and have a greater impact on communities affected by landmines.

Impact of HeroRATs in Cambodia

Cambodia is among the most heavily mined countries in the world. Millions of landmines and UXO remain scattered across the country, posing a constant threat to people and their livelihoods. APOPO’s HeroRATs have made a significant impact by accelerating the pace of landmine clearance, allowing safe land to be returned to communities. This development has far-reaching effects, supporting agriculture, infrastructure development, and community safety.

The work of APOPO’s HeroRATs has saved countless lives and prevented many injuries. By clearing minefields quickly and efficiently, the program has restored a sense of security to communities that once feared venturing into contaminated areas. This newfound safety has allowed people to rebuild their lives and pursue new opportunities.

Beyond Landmine Detection

HeroRATs are not only useful for detecting landmines. APOPO also trains these rats to detect tuberculosis in human sputum samples. This versatility shows the potential of these intelligent animals in global health and safety. Their ability to detect the scent of tuberculosis offers a valuable tool in the fight against this infectious disease. Early detection is crucial in managing tuberculosis, and HeroRATs provide a cost-effective and efficient means of identifying cases.

Supporting APOPO’s Mission

APOPO’s work relies on support from individuals, organizations, and partnerships. Donations and sponsorships help fund the training and care of the HeroRATs, allowing APOPO to continue its vital work in landmine detection and tuberculosis screening. People can also “adopt” a HeroRAT, providing ongoing support for the program. This unique adoption program allows supporters to track the progress of their adopted rat and see the impact of their contributions.

A Novel Approach to Global Safety and Development

APOPO’s HeroRATs program represents an innovative blend of animal training, technology, and humanitarian effort. This approach addresses some of the world’s most daunting challenges in a way that is both effective and efficient. By leveraging the unique skills of these remarkable animals, APOPO is making significant strides toward a safer and healthier world. The HeroRATs program is a testament to the power of creativity and compassion in solving complex problems, offering hope to communities affected by landmines and infectious diseases.

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