Rats Risk Their Lives to be Useful

By Fred

The Chinese Year of the Rat, which ends January 25, 2009, proved lucky for vermin. African Giant Pouched rats have two new career paths, although one is kind of kamakazi.

In Mozambique, rats in cute little harnesses and leashes (just like the red one Yul got for his aborted attempt to meet Santa) sniff out vapors from old landmines. Their noses are more sensitive than mechanical devices, and they’re so light on their feet, they don’t trigger explosions.

"Landmines smell just like kimchi!"

"Landmines smell just like kimchi!"

In fact, they’re making dogs, who could do this job, look oafish and inept.

Humans are so excited, they’re considering using rats to find landmines in other parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. I personally have no problem with exposing rats to this sort of danger, but I would caution people against getting carried away.

You may train a rat to walk on a leash, but he’ll never be your friend. Don’t forget who brought you the Black Plague in the Middle Ages.

In Tanzania, rats are detecting less-than-microscopic traces of tuberculosis in human saliva samples. That must make for nice chit-chat at rodent cocktail parties:

“And what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a spit sniffer.”

Rats are much cheaper than sweatshop labor. When a rat finds what he’s looking for, he scratches, and is rewarded with a piece of fruit or a nut.

You may wonder, if the rats are so smart, why haven’t they realized they can just scratch and get the treat because humans can’t immediately tell if the rat’s done the work?

Here’s what rat trainer Bart Weetjens thinks: “That would be human behavior. The rats are more honest.”

If you’re interested in adopting one of these rodents (no, I’m not kidding), here’s the site for you.

8 Responses to Rats Risk Their Lives to be Useful

  1. Paul says:

    According to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the most intelligent form of life on earth are lab mice. Humans I think come in third after dolphins.

  2. catsworking says:

    Paul, considering where you’re posting this observation, it would be tactful to say that humans come in third, after cats and dolphins. When’s the last time you saw a mouse standing on your doorstep with a dead cat in its mouth? 😉

  3. Adele says:

    Fred, where do you find these stories? I went to the website, but didn’t read it after the “Hero Rats” title.

    Karen, sorry about your health insurance. Working for the state of Illinois in child welfare for 29 years did nothing good for my health, but on the other hand, as a retiree, I do have insurance. The co-pays keep going up, but I’m so much better off than many. Rahm Emanuael just called me, to tell me that even though he’ll be leaving office (his dialing fingers must be really tired), he’ll still be looking out for our district, so I think I’ll send him an email about health care.

    Happy New Year to you and the cats. I see Adele having a cosmopolitan tonite, Fred having a Manhattan, and Yul, perhaps having a cognac. Let’s hope for peace, health, tolerance, and a return to a modicum of prosperity.

  4. catsworking says:

    Adele, I’m sure there are suckers who would fork over good money for a giant rat’s room and board, but there are a lot of deserving stray cats out there who are more deserving of a bailout, as far as I’m concerned, who’d be willing to earn their keep as mousers.

    As Karen has expressed so eloquently, the state of human healthcare is the pits and every message to the politicians from voters to do something about it is another nail in the health insurance industry’s coffin. So please do put in your 2 cents, even if you have good healthcare.

    As for our New Year’s celebration, you got it partly right. Adele will definitely be sipping a Cosmo, but I’ll be having a bit of the bubbly myself. It’s a special occasion.

    And this may destroy Alice’s illusions forever, but Yul won’t be in his smoking jacket nursing a cognac. With him and partying, it’s more about quantity than quality, so he’s probably ordered a keg and will be hitting the ‘nip pretty hard.

    Then it’s “Hide all the houseplants. It’s gonna be a bumpy night!”

  5. Adele says:

    Fred, given the state of Karen’s healthcare situation, I hope you guys helped purchase her libation of the evening.

    Alice is still smitten with Yul, even if he’s a wild man. I did think that Yul might be the type, who overindulges, but I pictured him wanting something like cognac, because it’s strong and has a certain cache. And given your love of horse racing, I figured you’d enjoy some venerable cocktail, like the Manhattan. But with your obvious urbanity, I can certainly see you drinking champers. If I were buying you a bottle, I’d get you Pol Roger Cuvee Winston Churchill. Winnie’s favorite quaff was Pol Roger champagne, and in his honor, the Pol Roger house named their best after him. It’s a delightful champagne (I love champagne), but needless to say, not cheap.

    Anyway, I hope the plants survived the evening, and no one is suffering from a hangover, today. I went with 8 friends, to an Indian restaurant, and then we came back to my place for dessert and champagne. We spent most of the evening discussing the situation in Gaza, trying to figure out, why humans, both Israel and Hamas, so often behave completely contrary to their self interest.

    P.S. The computer is hinky again, so this may be my second post on the same subject. Sorry.

  6. catsworking says:

    If there’s one thing you can say about Yul, it’s that he never does anything halfway. He wasn’t too bad last night and the houseplants lived to see 2009 (albeit some of them from the safety of a closet). We were all conked out by 10 pm, so there were no hangovers this morning, and we brought in the new year with another tasty can of Elegant Medleys, Adele’s favorite.

    You sound like a woman of refined tastes who would get along just fine around here at Cats Working.

    That situation in Gaza is certainly a mess, but because some people seem unable to separate over-the-top military aggression from race and religion — and consider any misgivings about the former to be condemnation of the latter — we cats are stepping around that pile. It’s too deep for us.

  7. envisionhope says:

    You know, pet rats are some of the best pets you can own. I was leary at first until I read this charming article describing a rat’s attributes. Always one to try a “different” pet, I bought a black rat and named him Max. He quickly became the star of the family. He was personable, knew his name, was easy to handle, and even took baths (that’s a whole other story). Bottom line, he was a sweetheart unequaled.

    I think rats would be excellent at the mine job. But I’m with you, we have to be careful how many we sacrifice for the cause, although I doubt a cat would be as thoughtful!

    Great piece.

  8. catsworking says:

    Envisionhope, you’ve just confirmed that “Max” is the most popular name for cats, dogs, AND rats. Interesting.

    I’ll take your word for it that they make great pets, and I’m sure some have charming personalities, but I can assure you that a rat wouldn’t last long around here. I could see Yul stepping on his tail regularly — out of jealousy (because Yul lost his own tail), and just to see the little sucker dance.

    Karen used to have guinea pigs that got along quite well with her previous cats. Unfortunately, she’d given them up by the time I came along. Multiple litterboxes and a big aquarium were more maintenance than she wanted to handle.

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