The year of the rat? Meet the HeroRAT

 

‘Rats?  I’m in Cambodia for the first time and you want me to go see rats?’  Reluctantly, dubiously, my friend gets into the tuk-tuk – we’re off to see the HeroRATS I’d recently heard about.

When last in Siam Reap, in the countryside, I placed my foot exactly where the person in front of me had put their foot.  Landmines, laid during the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and throughout the 80s and 90s, have had, and continue to have, a devastating impact on the people of Cambodia. I didn’t want to be yet another victim. Sadly, over 64,000 casualties and more than 25,000 amputees have been recorded since 1979.  It’s been a long, slow and difficult task finding these unexploded devices – which can last 50 years.

Numerous ways have been tried to find and disarm them and these new heroes seem to be the best in many ways, so, in April 2015 15 giant mine-sniffing rats flew into Cambodia, one of the most mine polluted countries in the world.

Not all heroes wear capes and these Gambian pouched rats, also known as Giant African rats, are now used to help the local demining efforts. They’ve been renamed ‘HeroRATS’.

Before being introduced to these heroes, my reluctant friend and I read most of the well-written signs explaining what we were about to see: by now she was getting enthused and interested to see a skills demonstration by these rats and their handlers.

After arriving from Tanzania, they then spent the rest of the year acclimatising and continuing their training.  Cambodians, SokHeng Hul and Thoeun Theap, had spent 6 months at the APOPO training centre near the mountains of Morogoro, Tanzania, learning the science, technology, and of course the practical operation of allowing the rats to detect unexploded ordinances.

The HeroRAT training continued until November 2015, when it was decided the team was ready for the first stage of the accreditation process. They took a Performance Test. This test is designed to show evaluators that they and the handlers were capable of detecting all mines that had been placed in the examination area. Over a one-week period, all the rats were tested and produced a 100% pass rate so were deployed in helping the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) deminers in their mine detection work and have since found roughly 500 anti-personnel mines and more than 350 unexploded bombs.

This success rate has no doubt saved many lives and limbs and for many families, enabled them to farm their land without fear and increase productivity.

Further information /sidebar

  • APOPO is a global non-profit organization with roots in Belgium that has developed an innovative method using African giant pouched rats, to detect landmines and tuberculosis using their extraordinary sense of smell. They detect only TNT and ignore scrap metal.
  • One HeroRAT can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes – this would take a manual deminer with a metal detector up to four days (depending on the levels of scrap metal present).
  • The HeroRATs are too light to set off the landmines and not a single rat has ever died in a minefield.
  • The expert rat handlers are trained in basic nursing care and rat first aid. Routine care includes daily observations of individual animals, weekly health inspections and regular prevention treatments for common parasites. Every week a university vet inspects the rats. When necessary, sick or injured rats are interned at the APOPO sickbay.
  • Their diet consists of high-quality pet pellets, fresh peanuts, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, sun-dried sardines and clean water that is regularly infused with extra vitamins and minerals to boost the rats’ immune systems
  • On retirement, typically between 7 and 8 years of age, the rats work as long as they are performing well, are happy, and pass their weekly health checks. If a rat decides to stop work, or if its performance has declined, or it is suffering from age-related health problems, it is retired to its home cage. It then continues to receive its usual healthy diet, is regularly taken out to play and exercise, and continues to receive its weekly health checks until it eventually passes away. If a rat is clearly suffering in its old age or from an untreatable disease, it is humanely euthanised.

Want to adopt a rat? Save a limb or a life?

SEE MORE www.apopo.org  https://support.apopo.org/en/adopt 

 

Post-quake road trip to Kaikoura – seals, shags, and slips

Early January 2019 I went to Kaikoura on a camping holiday-road trip from Wellington, NZ. It was my first trip there post the 2016,  7.8 earthquake – here are a few of the hundreds of photos I took. more blogs and pic to follow.

What’s not to love about seals – except perhaps their smell 🙂

Shags (Kawau in Māori, or cormorants in other countries) always seem to be posing

Kaikoura means to eat crayfish – and what a great spot to get some. Crayfish are large and in the lobster family – not the little crawfish of USA. (although that’s what many Americans hear when we Kiwi say ‘crayfish’. Nin’s Bin has been here for years and years!

Taking a Monday morning walk on Lyall Bay

Last weeks Monday morning walk  at the beach on Lyall Bay Wellington

Warning: reading this may make you want to travel

read this and start packing

” ‘Why do you want to go to Zimbabwe?’

Even I thought it seemed a little silly, when I replied ,’Because I like the name.’ Zimbabwe sounded exotic and I just wanted to go.

Now I’ve arrived in Africa and I’m ready for my big adventure: a canoe safari down the Zambesi River.

Standing on the banks of the calm looking river, I am beginning to get scared. Watching us is the biggest, meanest looking crocodile I have ever seen. Lying in the sun, he seems to be inspecting us. I watch him and he watches me as I listen to our guide’s safety instructions.

“Keep looking for hippos, usually you will just see their little ears sticking out of the water, and every few minutes I want to you give a little knock on the canoe so they can hear us coming. If you don’t and we frighten them they are likely to charge our canoes as they try to get into deeper water to hide.” he said.

I’m really getting scared now – last night I’d read that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal – but it’s too late to change my mind.

Our canoes are laden with tents, food and water: enough for four days. We paddle away from the security of the Mana Pools National Park – our destination, a wee village just before the Mozambique border.

the author sets off on her adventure

We paddle down-stream and, once the crocodile is out of sight, the safari is as wonderful as I had imagined. The sun is warm and all around me I can see the sacred white ibis balancing on the back of cape buffalo, iridescent dragonflies hover about, I can hear noisy baboons, and the sky has many fish eagles, Goliath herons and beautiful white-fronted bee-eaters. Magic. Just like a storybook.

“Hippo!” The guide and I paddle as fast as we can. It is coming directly towards us. We just miss colliding with each other!

Close your mouth. Danger’s over,” I tell myself. I have a swig of water to get some moisture back into my dry mouth.

“Whew that was close!’ Adrenaline is surging through my body. I try to breathe evenly and calm my heart. “That was a lessor spotted hippo” laughs Chobe our guide.

True, we had spotted it at the last possible moment and I’m not sure who was the most scared: hippo, guide or me! In seconds Chobe had changed from a laid back, softly spoken Zimbabwean, to a fast paddling man who was sure both he and I were about to be killed by a hippo. The front of the canoe almost rose in the air as we both paddled deeply and strongly.

Perhaps it is true the hippo was just scared but I’d like to know why a vegetarian has such big teeth and powerful jaws if it only eats grass.”

Read more in ‘Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad’ by Heather Hapeta. Available as an ebook on Amazon etc.

Encounters with creatures in Udaipur, India

In India, architectural heritage is often linked to the major religions of the country: Buddhist stupas and monasteries; Hindu and Jain temples in  many styles – many share structural characteristics such as stone columns and horizontal blocks carved with sacred imagery or decorative motifs sculptures of the vast pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses are everywhere the various deities have many manifestations which becomes confusing as their names, like many Indian cities, are interchangeable.

Udaipur, Rajasthan, is a fairy-tale city with marble palaces and lakes – and I will blog about them later. In the meantime, here is a slideshow (23 pics) some of the local wildlife.

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Birds, squirrels, and a monkey in New Delhi

With a couple of free days in New Delhi, and having already visited many of the tourist sites on a previous visit this time was pretty laid-back, relaxing before I went to a conference. But first I have to check out the wildlife!

I left my hotel (and will write a blog about all my various and diverse accommodations I used in India later) and went to Lodi Gardens. My Uber driver got lost despite his GPS and when he dropped me off said ‘I was here last weekend and you will see black swans whites swans – they are beautiful.’  I had not imagined what sort of birds or animals I would see in New Delhi so assumed the swans were left over from colonial days.

Here are the photos of the birds and creatures I saw:

. . . as you can see, not a swan in sight!

Away from Lodhi Park I also saw one monkey, and a gaggle of geese at the cricket grounds at a private school.

hiding out only metres from my hotel

#Follow me for new photos from Mongolia, Malaysian Borneo, and Penang


It’s only one week until I leave on my next big adventure to Mongolia and Malaysian Borneo! (and the mainland too) I have written a short blog about Mongolia, (see here) a country I’ve never been to, and I plan on posting a photo a day on my kiwi travel writer Instagram and Facebook pages – so #follow me. My blogs will follow once I return to New Zealand after my 5 weeks exploring.

While I have been to many parts of Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) and I’m looking forward to revisiting the Rainforest World Music Festival and Bako National Park, I also expect to discover new things in Kuching – including the fishing village of Kampong Buntal – and which is very close to where I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort during the festival. So, watch this space!

I’m of course hoping to see orangutans, proboscis monkeys, wild pigs, and possibly a crocodile or two. My must-eat food list is too long – and once again I’m hopeful my bathroom scales do not show a huge upward number when I return home. Malaysia has such wonderful food and Malaysians are all foodies, and who will always entice you to try this and that and yet another thing.

I’m spending about five days in Penang, which is considered the food capital of Malaysia, and as it’s been a long time since I was there I’m wondering if some of my favourite places will still exist. Feel free to give me advice about your favourites in the comments at the end of this blog.

In Sabah, the northern region of Malaysian Borneo, I will be snorkelling in new areas -Mabul island, and also Gaya island where I will visit the Marine eco-research Centre. Another new place will be the Sabah Tea garden after a short hike and Kinabalu Park – one of Malaysia’s world heritage sites.

Check out blogs I have already written about Malaysia (use the search button on this blog site) and make sure you follow me for five weeks of daily photos – as many of you will know, Malaysia is my favourite Asian country – and who knows, Mongolia – which is a blank canvas for me – could end up on my favourites list too.

Hope I get to see Richie again – he’s a big boy!
Heather helps plant mangroves

 

The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak,  photo by Gustino – Sarawak Tourism Board
A fisherman uses a net on Batang Ai, Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

 

Borneo adventures: Orang utans

Hope to visit this Sarawak sanctuary again in July

Kiwi Travel Writer talks food, travel, and tips

It’s time for me to blog about my Borneo adventures in Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei so these orangutan are here to announce them: Food, endangered animals, music, orchids and cats, will be the first few topics covered. I will mostly write them in my travel chronological time fame, starting in Kuching and finishing in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – a trip that took me 8 weeks.

Mum and baby .. Mum Annuar and baby ..

Only about 24 ks from Kuching, Sarawak, the Semenggoh Reserve is a must-visit place. Home to semi-wild orangutans, it was created many years ago for the rehabilitation of orphaned or rescued animals. They no longer do any ‘rehab’ work here but provide food daily for those who want, or need it. I believe they are only given bananas (largely) so they get bored and not rely on the ‘hand-outs’ but learn to eat the food in the forest.

Naturally as…

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