Rats trained to be sent into earthquake debris carrying tiny backpacks with microphones

Rats are being trained to be dispatched through the earthquake debris carrying tiny backpacks fitted with microphones so that rescue teams can talk to survivors.

The innovative project is being developed by research scientist Dr Donna Kean, 33, from Glasgow, Scotland.

So far, seven rats have been trained, taking just two weeks to get them up to speed.

At the moment, prototypes of homemade backpacks containing a microphone are used, and scientists send them to fake debris.

Rats are being trained to be dispatched through the earthquake debris carrying tiny backpacks fitted with microphones so that rescue teams can talk to survivors.
Matthew Newby/Zenger

Specialized backpacks containing microphones and video equipment as well as location trackers will be created to allow rescue teams to communicate with survivors during real earthquakes.

Kean has been based in Morogoro, Tanzania, East Africa, for the past year, working with the non-profit organization APOPO for a project named hero rats.

The rodents will get a chance to work in the field when they are sent to earthquake-prone Turkey to work with a search and rescue team, GAE.

Kean, who studied ecology at the University of Strathclyde before doing an MSc at the University of Kent and a PhD. at the University of Stirling, was originally interested in the behavior of primates.

But she was fascinated by how quickly rats can learn and be trained, and said it was a misconception that they are unhygienic.

She described them as “sociable” creatures and believes the work they do will save lives.

A total of 170 rats are being trained for projects such as landmines and tuberculosis, and it is hoped that the rats will be able to detect brucellosis, an infectious disease that affects livestock.

Rats are so agile they have never set off a land mine and their agility makes them perfect for use in disaster areas.

Dr Donna Kean with a practice rat
The innovative project is being developed by research scientist Dr Donna Kean, 33, from Glasgow, Scotland.

Kean said: “Rats could enter small spaces to reach victims buried in the rubble.

“We haven’t been in a real situation yet, we have a fake debris site.

“When we receive the new backpacks, we will be able to hear where we are based from and where the rat is, inside the debris.

“We have the potential to talk to victims through the rat.”

Rodents are trained to respond to a beep that calls them back to base.

Kean added: “A colleague is a seamstress, she makes the backpacks, she is very talented.

“We are getting bespoke backpacks which will have video recorders, microphones and a tracking transmitter.

“It’s quite unusual.

“They’re so agile, they’re so good at moving through all kinds of different environments.

“They are perfect for search and rescue work.

“They can live on anything.

“They are very good at surviving in different environments, which shows how suitable they are for search and rescue work.”

Dogs have been used for similar purposes, but rats have an advantage due to their small size and flexibility.

Kean added: “They are very trainable, the first step is to train them back to the base point – they respond to a beep.

“There is a misconception that they are dirty and unsanitary.

“They are well cared for at our house, they are sociable animals.

“We hope it will be implemented, we are in partnership with a search and rescue team in Turkey.

“It would just be about arranging transportation as soon as an earthquake happens.

“We are the only organization working with this species, there are other organizations that train dogs.

“We hope it will save lives, the results are really promising.”

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.