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APOPO’s Highly Trained Rats Could Save Your Life with Dr. Cindy Fast (Episode #131)

Dr. Cindy Fast tells us about the fascinating and groundbreaking work of an organization in Africa that has realized the potential in a common local animal, and turned it from “pest” to “hero.” Remarkable gains in landmine clearing, stopping the spread of tuberculosis, and even search and rescue techniques are being made… all from the discovery of a novel partnership: one between humans and… African giant pouched rats! Listen in to learn about the fantastic work of nonprofit, APOPO. 

Episode Highlights

About Our Guest:

Dr. Cindy Fast is Head of Training & Innovation for APOPO, an organization that realized a local pest—the Giant African Pouched Rat—could be turned into an ally for doing some of the most important work needed in their communities and beyond. 

Right now, the organization is saving countless lives every day, and the future is full of almost limitless possibilities. Dr. Fast says that she gets emails every week from people who have heard of the HeroRATs and want to work with them in yet another brilliant way. 

No, no… don’t hear the word “rat,” get the shivers and sit out this interview!

Once you hear this conversation, like me, you will probably believe that anything is possible if we open our minds, clear out some limiting beliefs, and press on with curiosity.  

Turns out there are animals all over our planet whose senses would be akin to superpowers for us—and these animals could and ARE helping to solve some of our most vexing problems!

Our guest, Dr. Fast, lives in Morogoro, Tanzania, where the APOPO training headquarters are located. She holds a Ph.D. and Master’s degree in Psychology, specializing in Learning & Behavior and Behavioral Neuroscience from UCLA, and she has more than 20 years of experience conducting research and training with a variety of animals including rats, mice, pigeons, and hermit crabs, in addition to family cats, dogs, birds, and horses.

As APOPO’s Head of Training & Behavioral Research, she uses that background to support the APOPO team in their work to see how many pressing humanitarian challenges these intelligent animals might solve and optimize training and performance of the HeroRATs. 

Dr. Fast has received numerous professional awards and has served as a mentor in the Global STEM Alliance Next Scholars program. And right now, she is aiming all her energy at this fascinating window into a future for us all where we respect and embrace the senses of animals that share our beautiful planet.

To learn more about APOPO’s great work, check out our article about them, here:

These Heroic Rats Save Lives by Detecting Land Mines and Tuberculosis

Step aside Remy from Ratatouille and Templeton from Charlotte’s Web! These rescuer rats trained by nonprofit APOPO might not be nearly as famous, but their work sniffing out land mines and tuberculosis is saving many, many more lives.

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

Resources Mentioned:

Show Notes

(00:00- 05:18) OPENING

(05:19- 12:57)

  • History of APOPO
  • Article about hamsters
  • African Giant Pouched rat
  • The first rat I met was Courage
  • Tanzania
  • Minefields
  • The way that I relate to the rats now is they remind me of the curious kitten
  • Rats are clever and friendly
  • We work with them as if they are colleagues

(12:58- 15:46) BREAK

(15:47- 30:37)

  • Happy, theTuberculosis-detecting rat
  • Rats have long lifespan, up to 6-8 years old
  • Custom engineered cage
  • 3 second detection
  • “Rat Florida”
  • Landmines history
  • Mozambique
  • Comparing rats to dogs in landmine detection
  • Turkish Non-Profit
  • Training rats that could save human lives
  • Innovative in combining low tech and high tech solutions together
  • Rats can actually sniff out a person in a guided search that a robot wouldn’t be able to do
  • Technology enabled backpacks developed by engineering students in a Dutch university

(30:38- 47:40)

  • Tanzania as a nation is proud of their African Giant Pouched Rat
  • APOPO is taking locally available, sustainable resource and developing it in a very cost efficient way that can then be used to solve challenges both locally and abroad
  • Live landmines are laying in 65 countries
  • Training rats to sniff out smuggled wildlife to help preserve endangered species
  • Gold bravery award for landmine-detecting rat
  • PDSA
  • Magawa
  • Cambodia
  • Panya Magawa Road
  • Morogoro, Tanzania
  • No pet mentality
  • Open-mind and willingness to learn
  • Funding
  • We started off with this idea about rats and landmines
  • Tuberculosis
  • Brucellosis

(47:41- 59:55)

  • I wish people knew there is a lot of negative influence in underestimating
  • Impostor syndrome
  • Dr. Cindy’s childhood and education
  • Understanding the brain and how animals particularly the rodents experience the world through their nose
  • Funding for operational trials
  • It’s not enough to just demonstrate it in the lab, we have to demonstrate it in the operational setting
  • Bringing the rats to Turkey
  • Website: APOPO
  • Adopt A Rat

(59:56- 01:00:50) CLOSING

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