In the wake of Westgate attack, focus is on our security agencies on how they can re-enforce the overall security system for better fighting criminal and terrorism threats within and beyond our borders. In this regard whenever new technologies arise we will be quick to recommend them. And now we want to recommend rats.
Yes rats have been used as detectives as far back as 2010 and no where else but in our neighboring country Tanzania. In the Tanzanian case, Scientific American reported that “scientists sent more than 20,000 sputum samples from 10,000 patients in Tanzania to be analyzed microscopically. They then presented the same samples to the rats. The results: the fancy microscopes found about 13 percent of the patients to be TB-positive. The rats identified an additional 620 cases, boosting the detection rate by 44 percent”.
In February this year BBC ran an article on rats being used to detect land mines in Mozambique where “HeroRats” were successfully used to uncover more than 2,406 landmines, 992 bombs, and 13,025 small arms and ammunitions, clearing 6 million square meters of countryside. CNN also published an article in February last year of rats that replaced some bomb-sniffing dogs.
And now Rotterdam’s police have announced that they are first to train rats to be police detectives. Named after fictional detectives Magnum, Poirot, Derrick, Jansen and Janssen, the Rotterdam’s police rats can sniff out drugs, explosives, gunshot residue, blood, fire accelerants, and other substances with a 95% success rate. “As far as we know we’re the first in the world to train rats to be used in police investigations,” said Mark Wiebes, who heads the Dutch police innovation center.
The Kenyan police can also adopt rats in their detective works as they are 60 times faster than current detective technologies. As explained by Monique Hamerslag who train the Rotterdam’s rats, “If a shooting were to take place today and several suspects were arrested, tests for gunshot residue would require chemicals, microscopes, and employees, all taking at least two hours. Rats can do the same thing in two seconds.”
Rats are also remarkably cheap to source, feed, breed and maintain. compared to dogs. They also have better ordour detection profile because rats have 1,000 different receptors crucial to the perception of smells; dogs have 900. In Mozambique rats were preferred over thermal image processing, laser detectors, and so-called Nuclear Quadropole Resonance (a chemical analysis technique) that were all found to be expensive and had higher rates of false positives. Metal detectors for instance will ring an alarm whenever a metallic substance is detected, requiring one to dig it out only to find an ordinary tin.
The downside of rats is that they are shy so detectives would prefer to take samples to them instead of taking the rats to the crime scene. Rats also have a life span of 2 to 4 years and they need constant retraining.
All said and done, we too can have trained rats to sniff out criminals and terrorists!