If you think of rats as disgusting vermin, then either you found a rat’s nest behind your dishwasher (sorry, Katie and Ian) or you’ve never met a domesticated rat. They’re friendly, gregarious, and full of fun antics. But longtime rat owner Bart Weetjens came up with another use for them: Land mine detection. And with that was born HeroRats, one of the most adorable charities known to man (at least among charities that aren’t themselves animal rescues).
Rats have a great sense of smell, they’re as smart and trainable as dogs, and they are too light to set off land mines. And aside from the cute value, HeroRats has all the marks of a good charity. Mined land is found in the poorest communities, but demining is done by expensive outside experts. The organization uses African giant pouched rats, a local species acclimated to the climate and resistant to tropical diseases, both of which pose a problem for mine-sniffing dogs. Rats are inexpensive to house and can subsist on local food products, like peanuts and bananas. Their staff of trainers and handlers are also virtually all locals, making it a not insignificant employer in Tanzania and Mozambique.