US To Use Crime-Fighting Rats In War Against Illegal Wildlife Trafficking

African giant pouched rat, eager to fight crime. CARL DE SOUZA/Stringer/Getty

In the last months of Obama’s presidency, the US government has stepped up its fight against the illegal trafficking of wildlife. Now, in a new operation, the US is funding the training of an elite crime-fighting force who will literally sniff out trafficked goods being transported. Who are they? African giant pouched rats, of course.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is testing out a new pilot scheme using the rats’ super sense of smell to detect the illegal items, such as pangolins and rosewood, two of the most trafficked items in the world, and training them to communicate their discoveries. Much like police sniffer dogs, only smaller.

The rats, which are named for the way their cheeks bunch up like a hamster, can grow up to 0.9 meters (3 feet) long. They may have poor eyesight but they have a sensational sense of smell.

This isn’t the first time the African giant pouched rats' super sniffer has been called upon to help humanity. They have also been trained to sniff out tuberculosis in Africa, with near 100 percent accuracy, as well as being used to detect land mines by sniffing out the explosive TNT, finding at least 1,500 mines so far and proving to be more efficient than both humans and dogs.

This pilot project is costing around $100,000, part of the $1.2 million the Service received from the government as part of President Obama’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. The grant is to be divided between 12 projects across 11 countries, including using sniffer dogs to combat the trafficking of saiga antelope horn in Kazakhstan, funding community-based conservation to combat timber trafficking in Madagascar, training law enforcement officers in Cambodia, and fighting the poaching of tigers in Indonesia. The sniffer rats are being tested out in the ports of Tanzania, a hub for wildlife trafficking.

“These grants provide much-needed resources to support projects on the ground where wildlife trafficking is decimating some of the Earth’s most cherished and most unusual species,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a statement. “These grant recipients are using pioneering approaches to address the illegal wildlife trade in the places where it starts and where demand for wildlife products feeds the criminal supply chain of illegal goods.”

So there you go, rats have joined the fight to tackle the illegal wildlife trafficking trade. Frankly, we have to take all the help we can get and utilize all options available in the continued fight to preserve our wildlife, and that is not to be sniffed at.

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