Oh, Rats!

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Would You Hire A Rat?

Would you hire a trainer and a bunch of giant rats, aside from being the director of a horror movie set in the sewers of New York City?

This is why you look outside the lines and find a fortune just waiting for you in the most unusual places and odd things that could be useful. It’s the latest coup for the talented African Pouched Rat, which is already busy sniffing out land mines and tuberculosis.

There are a lot of amazing things about the African Pouched Rat. For one thing, they’re enormous—more cat-sized than rat sized, they’re about three feet long from tail to nose. For another, those noses are pretty wonderful. African Pouched Rats can’t see or hear very well, but they make up for it with a sense of smell at least as good as a dog’s.

They’re such good sniffers, in fact, that they’re now government contractors. The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that they’ve hired a group of the rats to fight wildlife trafficking, to the tune of $100,000.

But, let’s be clear, the rats don’t get paid —the project itself will. The rats are generally paid in room, board, and extra bananas.

A pilot project in Tanzania, partially funded by the USFWS, aims to test whether the rats can identify shipments of illegal biological products by their smell. Wildlife products like pangolin skins and certain hardwoods are constantly crossing borders, often well-disguised. It is hoped that the rats will be able to cut through the olfactory noise and pinpoint which shipments aren’t supposed to go through.

These won’t be the first pouched rats to use their schnozzes for science. Earlier this year, NPR profiled a rat named Chewa, one of a whole Tanzanian rodent team that diagnoses tuberculosis by smelling sputum samples. They’re cheaper and faster than traditional lab tests, and more fun, too—”they jump on our shoulders,” one employee said. The same organization, called APOPO, also trains the rats to sniff out TNT, allowing them to scour former war zones for land mines. So many talents!

If the trials go successfully, this will be “the first phase of a much larger project to mainstream rats as an innovative tool in combating illegal wildlife trade,” the US Fish and Wildlife Department writes. If you’re in the US and want to see an African Pouched Rat in action, you’ll have to head to Florida—a wild, invasive population has wreaked havoc there since the late 1990s, when they themselves were illegally released by a breeder. Their high-achieving foreign relatives must be so ashamed.

Now, ask yourself, how many innovations of this nature have you and your business concocted lately? Innovation is everywhere, just waiting for you to create it.

To Your Success…?

Scott

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