Ro­dents en­listed in fight to sniff out traf­ficked pan­golins

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Jo­han­nes­burg By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Los An­ge­les

The pan­golin, a scaly anteater cov­eted by poach­ers, might have a new cham­pion: rats that will be trained to sniff out traf­ficked pan­golin parts in ship­ments head­ing from Africa to Asia.

A pi­lot project to turn African gi­ant pouched rats into con­ser­va­tion­ist sleuths is in its in­fancy— the 10 to 15 ro­dents be­ing reared in Tan­za­nia to de­tect pun­gent pan­golin re­mains as well as smug­gled hard­wood tim­ber are just a few weeks old and most are still with their moth­ers. Craw­ford Al­lan,

The US Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, how­ever, is on board with the ro­dent trial, which or­ga­niz­ers hope can even­tu­ally be used to find hid­den ele­phant ivory and rhino horn. The US cit­i­zen agency has pro­vided $100,000 to sup­port what it says could be “an in­no­va­tive tool in com­bat­ing il­le­gal wildlife trade”.

The chal­lenge seems over­whelm­ing.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists de­scribe the pan­golin as the world’s most heav­ily traf­ficked mam­mal be­cause its meat is con­sid­ered a del­i­cacy in Viet­nam and other parts of Asia, and its scales are used in tra­di­tional medicine.

Wildlife con­tra­band is con­cealed among vast num­bers of ship­ping con­tain­ers leav­ing ports in Africa.

Yet APOPO, a non­profit group based in Tan­za­nia, al­ready har­nesses the rats’ keen sense of smell to find mines and other ex­plo­sive ma­te­rial on old bat­tle­fields in Africa and Cam­bo­dia.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion also uses rats to de­tect tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in sam­ples of pa­tients.

The rats in the con­ser­va­tion project will start “so­cial­iza­tion train­ing”, which means be­ing car­ried around on peo­ple’s shoul­der­sandin their­pock­ets, be­ing driven around and gen­er­ally get­ting used to sights and sounds, APOPO spokesman­James Pursey said.

Then comes “click and re­ward” train­ing in which the rats are fed a treat when­ever they hear a click­ing sound, and they’ll even­tu­ally learn to link the smell of pan­golin scales with ed­i­ble re­wards. Later, the in­ten­sity of the pan­golin smell will be re­duced and other smells will be added to con­fuse the rats.

The ul­ti­mate aim is to train the ro­dents to scratch or linger over the pan­golin or hard­wood aroma for three sec­onds, tip­ping han­dlers to a pos­si­ble find.

APOPO is con­fi­dent it can get rats to dis­crim­i­nate be­tween a pan­golin scent and other smells, and “the chal­lenge is go­ing to be how the rats ac­tu­ally test the con­tain­ers,” Pursey said.

Han­dlers can dis­patch rats with leashes and har­nesses into hard-to-reach ar­eas, but then“howarethey­go­ing­totell us that they’ve found some­thing?” said Kirsty Breb­ner of theEn­dan­geredWildlifeTrust, a South African group that is lead­ing the project.

One op­tion be­ing con­sid­ered is to in­stall small cam­eras on­the­back­soft­her­ats, anidea that has been dis­cussed for the de­tec­tion of peo­ple trapped in col­lapsed build­ings af­ter an earth­quake or bomb­ing.

There have been suc­cess­ful tests us­ing dogs and air-fil­ter­ing tech­nol­ogy to de­tect wildlife con­tra­band.

But, said Craw­ford Al­lan, a leader ofananti-wildlife­crime ini­tia­tive: “Dogs need a lot of care and we won’t risk them crawl­ing into tight spa­ces where they could be in­jured, so bring­ing in a con­ser­va­tion “pied piper” and a squad of rats could help in those cir­cum­stances where they can move freely, with low risk in more cramped con­di­tions in­side ship­ping con­tain­ers or on the back of trucks etc.”

Dogs need a lot of care and we won’t risk them crawl­ing into tight spa­ces.” leader of anti-wildlife crime ini­tia­tive Hot air bal­loons take to the sky dur­ing the In­ter­na­tional Bal­loon Fes­ti­val at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Park in Leon in Mex­ico’s Gua­na­ju­ato state on Sun­day.

As hun­dreds of names scrolled up the screen af­ter 2012’s The Avengers, movie­go­ers didn’t know one name was miss­ing — that of John Sut­tles, a truck driver who died help­ing make the $1.5 bil­lion block­buster.

Ev­ery year, work­ers on both sides of the cam­era are hurt and even die from ob­vi­ous risks such as stunts and ex­plo­sives, but also from falls from lad­ders, top­pled equip­ment and ma­chines with­out safety guards. Crow,


A pair of young African gi­ant pouched rats will soon be­gin train­ing to de­tect traf­ficked pan­golins in the pi­lot project.

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