Rats are being trained to be rescue heroes during an earthquake
The rats’ small size allows them to navigate debris that humans and dogs can’t, and their keen sense of smell is crucial to finding survivors
Move over, Remy the rat from “Ratatouille” — there might be some new lovable rat heroes in town.
According to Discovery.com, Dr. Donna Kean is dedicating time to train 170 rats to go into earthquake debris and locate earthquake survivors.
With the incentive of a treat when they perform the task correctly, seven rats have been geared up with microphones, video gear and location trackers. When the rat finds a victim, it triggers a switch to notify the team outside the debris.
Kean explained to Science.org why she and her colleagues at the nonprofit APOPO train pouched rats instead of dogs.
“The rats have a comparable sense of smell, and they’re just as trainable as dogs,” she said. “They also aren’t tied to just one trainer, which is what you find with dogs. And their size is useful because they will be able to penetrate into areas with dense rubble and debris that dogs just wouldn’t be able to.”
The training takes place in Tanzania, where giant pouched rats are native to the area, and APOPO has found success training the rats with land mine detection.
Zenger recorded a training session with one of the rats.
“They can live off anything,” Kean told Indy 100. “They are very good at surviving in different environments which just shows how suitable they are for search and rescue work.”
What if a victim gets scared of the rat? That’s partly why the rodents carry the tiny backpacks and gear.
“There can be audio coming from the backpack that potentially says, ‘I am a RescueRat, I’m here to help you,’ that kind of thing,” Kean told Science.org.
The work could potentially save the lives of victims trapped under debris, as well as rescue crew members, because it will give crew members a better idea of where victims are located before entering dangerous foundations.