Lors de sa dernière Assemblée Générale, l’Académie internationale du Rat a décidé d’apporter son soutien à L’Association APOPO https://www.apopo.org/en/about/who/mission qui utilise les capacités olfactives du Rat pour détecter les mines et ainsi rendre aux populations des terrains rendus impraticables par les guerres.
Dans ce cadre L’Académie a adopter un rat nommé « Popaul » en souvenir de son Président d’honneur Paul Aurouze qui, n’en doutons pas, aurait été très fier de se joindre à cette belle cause.
Dans cette rubrique nous vous donnerons régulièrement des nouvelles de notre protégé.
Mar 06 Popaul Popaul advances from 5 meter to the advanced stage
Your rat is flying through the training process and is now ready to cover a larger, harder area with less mines, good luck!
Mar 06 Popaul Popaul and collagues have already reached the advanced training stage!
The trainees are now in the advanced training stage and honing their expertise at a faster rate! Things start to get tough at this stage to match the real minefield conditions. There are fewer landmines and fewer rewards to manage the performance on a real minefield. These are important factors in ensuring that the rats are field-ready and capable of sniffing out mines once they graduate from the training program.
Most importantly, the trainers do not always sound the click and reward when the rats indicate correctly. This is an important part of the training procedure because all future mine detection rats need to be trained to continue searching even if they did not get a reward for finding a landmine. In scientific terms, rewarding a correct response only occasionally is called « intermittent reinforcement. »
The reason that it is so important to intermittently reinforce the rats’ detection responses is that in the real minefield none of the trainers know where the landmines are, and so they cannot reward the HeroRATs for finding the real landmines. Intermittent reinforcement will help our trainees learn to persevere even when they aren’t getting a bite of banana for every landmine that they find. Popaul and the others are up for the challenge and are learning quickly!
Feb 20 Popaul Second blind test passed for Popaul
Congratulations to Popaul and the other HeroRATs who just passed their second blind test, also technically known as the five-meter test. As in the first blind test, the trainers did not know where the targets were hidden. Whenever the HeroRAT trainees scratched at the ground for three seconds or longer, the trainers reported to an observing supervisor that a detection response had been made. The supervisor marked the location of each response on a map of the field and later reported the test results to the trainer. If the rats find all of the mines in a 5 by 24 meter area without scratching more than once over an area that did not contain a landmine the pass the test.
The smell of TNT and other odors from landmines are not exclusively concentrated directly above the landmine. It is important to note this because in many countries buried landmines remain very much active under the ground for decades after the war is over. With time, the odors spread out around the landmine in patterns that vary with terrain, soil type, and weather. Because the mine detection rats are responding to the smell of the landmine, which could be spread over a large area, indication responses that occur within one meter of a landmine are considered to be a « hit. » In real minefields, the team that removes the landmines takes this into consideration when following up on indication responses.
Popaul and the other trainees are well on their way to clearing land and saving lives, and will be rewarded with extra mangos and play time today. Come join the festivities!
Feb 06 Popaul Popaul’s 5-star resort
Popaul and the other HeroRATs are working hard to make this world a safer place, therefore they deserve to be treated in the highest regard!
APOPO places a high value on animal welfare. As rats are what the organization is built around, we ensure they are treated humanely and with the utmost respect. Here are some of the animal welfare guidelines that they are entitled to:
- Environmental enrichment through the use of toys, objects for chewing, and daily trips to the play cage
- APOPO provides continuous sensory and motor stimulation by handling the rat, playing, or petting every day
- The rat cages are spacious and food is scattered in the bedding or another challenging location so the animals will forage for the food, which is a natural instinct for the rats
- Rat cages are cleaned often with fresh bedding, new toys, and new housing units if required
- Humans are given lengthy training and instruction on handling the rat in the correct manner and how to avoid startling the rat
- Daily inspection of rats by trainers for medical ailments and weekly checkups by a certified veterinarian
- Feeding occurs every day with a mix of fruit, vegetables, nutritious rodent pellets, and plenty of water is provided for each rat
- Every Friday, each rat is fed a big feast including several types of fruit, vegetables, and nuts so they can relax for the weekend!
What do you think International Academie? Does this sound like a 5-star hotel or what?
Popaul would like to introduce you to one of its favorite trainers at APOPO in Tanzania, Mark Shukuru.
Local capacity building is one of the important pillars of APOPO’s core values, and for this reason, the organization hires 95% of its staff from the local communities in the areas of its operations. Many staff members join APOPO with little technical skill, no background in animal training and often, a conventional perception of rats. Mark Shukuru, who is currently a Training Officer at APOPO, started in a similar vein and fast became one of the most respected trainers at the Morogoro research and development center. Here is Mark’s story in his own words:
« I feel great about working with APOPO knowing that I am helping people to lead safe and healthy lives not just in my own country but also in several others. Working here, I believe that there is nothing under the sun that is impossible. I joined APOPO in 2001 as a field attendant but I was given so many opportunities to learn and grow right from the very beginning. I learned to drive and to use a computer before I became a trainer and soon realized that rats can indeed save lives. I am very attached to the animals I train and if I see even a wild rat injured on the road, I feel pain. I feel proud and celebrate when my rats get accredited, perform well and work hard like me.
Before joining APOPO, I was involved in farming and small business. Back then, I never dreamed that I would work with an international NGO and get so much exposure to the world outside of Tanzania. I did well at the Morogoro training center and was sent to Mozambique to work in the mine action program there. It was very challenging and exciting to work in an actual minefield and I got great feedback from the management on my performance there. I also got a chance to go to Angola and Cambodia to establish the training field for our new operations. My decisions and inputs are taken positively by the organization and I feel that I can grow even more to solve the world’s TB and landmine problems. »
Popaul has officially begun its training! It will now learn that a click sound signals that it has earned food! Clickers are widely used in animal training because the click sound bridges the gap between the correct response and the reward. This means that Popaul will continue to work knowing that the trainer will signal when it is correct. This method helps the animals rapidly identify the precise behavior that will obtain a reward and adapt as quickly as possible. Clicker training takes place in special glass-walled cages which have single holes for administering food rewards.
At first, Popaul’s trainer will repeatedly sound the click and immediately deliver food. Later, the trainer will withhold the click to encourage Popaul to move progressively further away and return only when the rat hears the click. In scientific terms, the click becomes a « conditioned reinforcer, » meaning that the click itself becomes a reward. The click also becomes a « discriminative stimulus, » meaning that Popaul will approach the trainer after hearing the click because it signals that food is available.
Click training for Popaul will start slow and easy: sessions twice a day for approximately 5 minutes each. Click training is scheduled for roughly two weeks, at the end of which Popaul will start its journey as either a mine detection or TB detection HeroRAT.
Popaul has just opened its eyes! It is still living with its mother, and relies on her for milk and comfort, but is now strong enough to meet its trainer. Popaul’s trainer is spending a lot of time interacting with it and exposing it to many different sights, sounds, and smells. This process, called « socialization, » ensures that Popaul will not be startled when it is handled by humans or when it encounters something new. Socialization training, which starts as soon as baby rats open their eyes at the age of four weeks or so, will make Popaul easier to train and help meet the challenges that it will face later in its career.
This week Popaul and its trainer took a car ride, played in the grass, listened to music, and met some new people. Though these are fun experiences for humans, for a young rat they can be frightening at first, but Popaul is quickly becoming comfortable. After about one week of socialization, Popaul will be ready to leave its mother, learn to be relaxed around the various stimuli present in the work environment, trust its trainers, and be more conducive to the remaining stages of the HeroRAT training process.
Welcome to the world, Popaul! It is celebration time in APOPO’s rat kennels today for the birth of baby Popaul and its two siblings. Popaul belongs to the species Cricetomys gambianus, commonly known as the African giant pouched rat, which are often born in litters of 2 or 3. APOPO’s breeding program ensures that prospective parents of our future heroes are carefully handpicked to deliver healthy, happy and high-quality rat babies. A successful breeding program increases the likelihood of delivering excellent HeroRATs to detect landmines and tuberculosis.
APOPO’s early experiences demonstrated that rats that grow up in the organization’s kennels are easier to train and are more effective scent detectors. Since many rats are needed for mine action and TB detection operations, APOPO’s research and development department is constantly working on ways to optimize the breeding program. Before placing rat couples in the breeding cages, the APOPO staff closely monitors the acceptance behavior of the animals in the introduction cage. Female rats either reject or accept a prospective mate in this cage and in cases of clear acceptance, the rat couples are placed together in the breeding cages.
Crucial information such as the best timing for the female rats and the fertility period of the male rats go a long way in improving the productivity of the breeding colony. APOPO’s breeding program also ensures optimal care, feeding and medical attention to aid the overall welfare of the animals and subsequently improve the quality of rats available for training.