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!

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

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'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 International Academie meet Mark Shukuru International Academie meet Mark Shukuru

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. »

happy-new-year-2017 tanzania

Nov 14 PopaulPopaul is nervous for its big blind test.

Popaul is nervous for its big blind test. Congratulations! Popaul and the other trainees just passed their first blind test. This blind test, conducted at the end of the scent discrimination training, was the first true measure of our future Heroes’ capability since even the trainer did not know which tea-egg contained the TNT. Only the supervisor administering the test knew where the TNT was located. It is important to conduct these types of tests under blind conditions so that the trainer cannot inadvertently cue the rat as to the location of the positive sample. Rats are intelligent animals and can sometimes pick up small changes in the behavior of humans to know where the TNT sample may be present. To prevent this possibility, our trainers never know which samples are positive. When Popaul and the other rats pause for five seconds over a hole, the trainers inform the supervisor who then record the response and later communicates the test results to the trainers. 

To pass the test, every rat has to correctly identify all eight of the eight TNT samples presented and correctly ignore the 22 neutral samples. If only one of the neutral samples is indicated by a rat to be TNT, the animal could still pass the test, but if even one of the TNT samples are missed, the rat would have failed. Now that  our trainees have demonstrated their expertise in distinguishing the smell of TNT from other scents, they are ready to start working in a sandbox!

We’re proud Popaul and the other rats put their nose to work and passed with flying colors. Ah, the sweet smell of success! Perhaps you would like to treat them to a graduation feast of avocados and peanuts? 

Discrimination training is fun! Popaul and the other HeroRATs are learning fast and things are getting a bit more interesting and complex! Now that everyone knows to pause over the scent of TNT, the trainer is including other scents. This is to teach the rats that even when presented with a bouquet of odors, it is to only seek out and indicate the smell of TNT.

In the previous stage  all trainees learned to pause over a small container containing the smell of TNT. Now two additional tea-eggs are added on top of the soil table and the trainers constantly change the position of the different tea-eggs. The two additional tea-eggs contain neutral odors that Popaul and the other future mine detection rats must learn to ignore in their quest to sniff out the TNT. Specifically, their task is to smell the three containers and pause only over the one with TNT. Because the trainer never rewards the rats for pausing over a hole without TNT, they eventually learn to only pause over containers with TNT. This is critical for the later work in the minefield where many other scents might be present.

In scientific terms, this training is called « discrimination training, » meaning that Popaul and the other rats are being trained to discriminate one scent from all other scents. They will continue practicing discrimination until the trainer thinks that they are ready – and then it’s time for a big test. Wish Popaul luck Robert

Sep 09 Popaul Popaul passed clicker training! Popaul passed clicker training!

Your rat just passed clicker training and is well on its way to becoming a successful HeroRAT!


Sep 09 PopaulWill Popaul learn to detect TNT or TB?

Will Popaul learn to detect TNT or TB?

Popaul is now ready to specialize and needs your help to decide, Robert! It has been doing very well so far and is now all set to move to some real sniffer training. To streamline the training process and to ensure that Popaul builds an ‘expertise’ in one specific scent; it is important to only focus on one going forward. The next stages will introduce the smell of TNT or of tuberculosis (TB) to Popaul and its detection behavior, training scenario, and eventually the area of operation will be shaped accordingly to the chosen scent. 

APOPO’s mine action programs are currently implemented in Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia. If you choose to help Popaul become a mine detection rat, it will join a successful team that helped to release more than 25 million m² of land to the local communities so far. The rats have so far found more than 68,000 landmines, small arms and ammunition and UXOs.

Likewise, if Popaul joins the TB detection team, it will join a prolific group of rats who have collectively screened more than 180,000 sputum samples and found more than 8,900 additional cases of TB in Tanzania and Mozambique. APOPO partners with TB clinics in these countries which both have very high incidences of the disease, to collect sputum samples from patients with respiratory problems. Early detection is imperative to curbing of TB in a community since an untreated patient can potentially infect 10-15 more people every year. 

It is a difficult choice but either way, you can be assured that Popaul will contribute towards solving some of the world’s most critical humanitarian problems.

Popaul will be a landmine detection HeroRAT

Aug 26 Popaul Click goes the food reward. Click goes the food reward.

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.


Aug 12 Popaul Popaul has opened its eyes for the first time! Popaul has opened its eyes for the first time!

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.


 Jul 15 Popaul Baby Popaul is born! Baby Popaul is born!

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.

New Innovations for the Mine Detection Rats

Last week was World Innovation and Creativity day. In this spirit, APOPO is carrying out innovative research to investigate alternative ways that the mine detection rats can show us that they have found a landmine. The goal is to reduce ambiguity in the rats’ signals, which will make training and mine detection more efficient.

The rats are clever creatures and we are training them to pull a ball fixed onto a collar when they find a target (such as the tea egg containing TNT pictured above). When the rat pulls the ball on the current prototype, a beep is sounded that clearly signals to the handler that the rat has found a target. Future prototypes of the collar might enable an LED to light up when the rat pulls the ball, or it could conceivably communicate a wireless signal to a handheld device carried by the trainer. In the future, this device could even be used for detection of other odor targets.


By Christophe Cox | CEO APOPO

Joy Milne visits the APOPO training center in Tanzania.

“Joy Milne is better known as The woman who can smell Parkinson’s. In December, I saw Joy’s media appearances and learned about her collaboration with Edinburgh and Manchester Universities. At the 2018 People’s Postcode Lottery annual Charity Gala in Edinburgh, I met her and Dr Tilo Kunath. I took the opportunity to invite Joy to visit APOPO in Tanzania.

There is currently no definitive test (such as a blood test) to make a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Instead, a doctor takes a careful medical history and performs a thorough neurological examination, looking in particular for a combination of symptoms to be present. It remains an incredibly difficult disease to diagnose. Joy’s own husband contracted the disease but she only discovered she could smell it after she had joined a Parkinson’s charity and met other people suffering from the disease around whom existed the same musky smell. Joy had actually noticed this odor around her husband years before he was diagnosed. By chance she mentioned this observation to scientists at a talk and they were fascinated.

Dr. Tilo Kunath, a Parkinson’s UK fellow at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Edinburgh decided to test Joy’s sense of smell by using t-shirts which had been worn by six people with Parkinson’s and six without. She not only correctly identified the six positive samples but she pointed out that one of the control six had the smell as well. A few months later the t-shirt owner was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Dr. Kunath then enlisted the help of Prof Perdita Barran, an expert in chemical analysis from the School of Chemistry Manchester University, to try to isolate the molecules that form the scent that Joy is able to smell. Prof. Perdita Barran and her team discovered that people with Parkinson’s seem to have different molecules in the scent bouquet, which it is what Joy is able to identify simply through smell.

Joy had already heard about APOPO and she accepted my offer to visit our research and development headquarters in Tanzania, see the HeroRATs in action and meet our R&D and TB research team headed by Dr. Cindy Fast and Dr. Lena Fiebig. Joy spent a week with us learning about our scent detection work and kindly sharing her own experiences and knowledge. Unlike our rats, Joy can communicate directly with us and her observations were very interesting food for thought. For example Joy closely observed the rats sniffing behavior and made several recommendations related to their behavior and other conflicting scents in the working environment. We also learned a lot from her methodic approach using her analytical olfaction capacity in combination with a spectrometer to identify the volatiles of disease.

Joy’s visit was extremely interesting and helpful and we hope to have her back in the near future so that we can direct her to a more focused study from which I believe we will learn a great deal. Science aside, Joy is a wonderful woman whose generosity with her time and knowledge made her an absolute pleasure to host.”