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Wildlife Trafficking: Special Breed of Rodents from Tanzania Joins Chase

Specially bred giant rats are being deployed to combat trafficking of rare species of wildlife such as the endangered pangolin, turtles and tortoises.

Tanzania, through the country’s Center of Excellence hub of the Sokoine University is rearing a special breed of rodents capable of detecting illegal wildlife trafficking at airports and other territorial ports of entry or exit.

The rodents, known as ‘Hero Rats,’ are being developed in the Institute of Pest Management at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro Region.

The initiative happens to be part of the Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence Project.

Professor Rhodes Makundi of the Pest Biology, Ecological Studies and Pest Management Center at the Sokoine University says the rodents can also detect lethal weapons, land mines and narcotic drugs.

“We are breeding and training African Giant Pouched Rats that initially were meant to be capable of diagnosing tuberculosis and we are upgrading their skills for the rodents to be able to detect Covid-19 infections as well,” says Prof Makundi.

The Sub-Saharan giant pouched rats (genus Cricetomys) happen to be large Muroid rodents.

Their head and body lengths range from 25 to 45 centimeters with scaly tails measuring between 36 and 46 centimeters. On average they weigh up to 2.5 kilograms.

Professor Makundi, displayed one of such giant well-trained rats christened Kennedy, born in 2014 of Mr Myre and Mother Fadil. The specimen weighs 3 kilograms.

He explained that the large mice have a lifespan of up to eight years.

The Professor was speaking at the threshold of the 14th Technical and Advisory Meeting for leaders of African Centers of Excellence, which runs in sync with 20th Regional Steering Committee Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania.

The scientific events are organized under the auspices of the Inter University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) with support from the World Bank Group.

The African Center of Excellence for Innovative Rodent Pest Management and Biosensor Technology Development, operating from Sokoine University in Morogoro aims at reducing the economic impacts of such pests on crops, that is crop damage and losses.