'Hero rats' charity wins £500,000

A charity that uses rats to sniff out landmines has won a £500,000 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

Bart Weetjens, founder and chief executive of Belgian charity Apopo, began training his 'hero rats' to detect mines in the 90s. They indicate the position of the explosives by scratching the ground.

He told Third Sector that rats were better suited to conditions in Africa, where they are used, than dogs because they were less vulnerable to tropical diseases and easier to transport and train. One local trainer can train 10 rats in a day.

Weetjens has also started using rats to diagnose TB sufferers from their sputum samples. He said rats could smell the tar-like odour given off by people with TB long before humans could. They were also more accurate and cost-effective at detecting the illness than microscopes.

Weetjens said the three-year Skoll Foundation grant would provide core funding and allow him to develop Apopo.

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