APOPO’s HeroRATs take nine months to fully train. Throughout they are extremely well cared for, receiving an excellent diet, regular exercise, much personal attention and scheduled playtime, as well as weekly care from a vet and onsite animal behaviourist.
At four-weeks old the rats begin to be regularly handled by trained staff and introduced to everyday sounds and smells. In a short time they are at ease in their surroundings and with people.
Click training and scent training
The rats are trained to associate the sound of a click with food. When they near a tea egg containing the scent of explosives (TNT) they will hear a click and receive a food reward.
Scent discrimination training
They now learn to distinguish between TNT-positive and TNT-negative tea eggs. The rats will only hear a click and receive a reward if they interact with the TNT positive tea-eggs.
Soil floor training
The rats learn to work in soil trays placed outdoors in different environmental conditions. They wear a rat-sized harness and the tea-eggs are buried in soil.
For the first time, the rats enter a field with real, deactivated landmines. They will first detect surface laid mines in a small area, and move gradually to deeper mines in larger areas.
Before being deployed to a real minefield, the rats must pass a blind test where only the head supervisor knows where the mines are. To pass they have to find all target landmines in a 400m2 area, making no more than one false indication. Once they pass they can graduate as bonafide HeroRATs!