The Endangered Wildlife Trust visits APOPO Tanzania

Last month, Dr. Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust of South Africa (EWT) visited APOPO’s training and research center in Tanzania to check in on the animal trafficking project

APOPO established a partnership with EWT last year to collaborate on a proof-of-principle experiment, funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Services, to examine the abilities of its African giant pouched rats to detect illegally trafficked pangolins and African hardwoods.

Eleven young rats were selected and socialized in preparation for training to begin this summer. These rats are being trained to indicate the presence of pangolin derivatives or endangered timber, but not common masking materials found in shipping containers, such as beans. If successful, later stages of the experiment will explore possible methods for the rats to assess the contents of shipping containers.

Despite many years working with EWT, Dr. Kelly Marnewick is a recent addition to their Trade Team and our newest partner on the project. Kelly visited our headquarters in Morogoro as part of the routine monitoring and evaluation schedule established between APOPO, EWT, and the organization funding the project, the US Fish and Wildlife Services.

Roundtable discussions regarding ongoing progress and challenges facing the project were followed by tours of APOPO's facilities and training programs. The main challenge has been securing and obtaining CITES permits to transport endangered pangolin scales to APOPO for use in the rat’s training. In the meantime the rats were being trained on a placeholder target (orange scent) and will switch to pangolin scales in mid-November. APOPO recently procured these from the Dar es Salaam Zoo and hardwood samples from the SUA forestry department as well as local authorities.

Kelly had the opportunity to also watch the young rats involved in the EWT-APOPO project as they completed training sessions and discuss various project logistics with APOPO's Head of Training and Behavioral Research & Development Dr. Cindy Fast.

"Its really exciting to see how the rats can target individual scents. If we can apply these skills in a shipping port scenario, we could have a really significant impact on stopping pangolin trade."  said Dr. Kelly Marnewick.

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APOPO is deeply grateful for the generous support of Endangered Wildlife Trust and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.