18 APOPO training, welfare, research and data

I was tired this morning after waking up to another rainy day. I started off by documenting all of the rats in the breeding kennels (which spelled completion of my Head Office rat audit!) and then I finished up adding the information to the master spreadsheet.

Then I interviewed Pendo, a wonderful character at APOPO. She is a training supervisor as well as being head of the welfare team. We had a really lovely conversation about how APOPO is a project and a place of work that can inspire young people in many different ways. I also filmed some of the rats training on the soil floor.

A really interesting research project is underway – looking at whether the rats can become accustomed to wearing a weighted mini backpack instead of the harness – this is the first step to determining whether the rats could be used to find survivors in building or mine collapse disasters.

I had lunch back at the rest house; finishing up all the leftovers from last night and having a power nap!

I interviewed Anthony during an experiment that he is helping to conduct with the baby rats, looking at early aptitude and interest to determine whether the rats should go on to TB detection or mine detection after basic training. Anthony works as a Mine Detection Rat trainer in the mornings and then a Research rats trainer in the afternoon, so he has been involved with lots of interesting experiments and has experience with developing new and better ways to achieve results. He’s a really friendly face around the main office site too.
I made a strong cup of coffee in Lily’s office as I needed a pick-me-up and then I met Judy and Saidi to discuss the database management for all of the Mine Detection Rats in training and the HeroRATs deployed on Operations. Judy talked me step by step through the 9-stage training journey for the Mine Detection Rats and the Quality Assurance role that she plays at each stage before a rat can progress to the next level. I’m really glad that I’ve seen most of the stages now so I have a better idea of what is involved at each stage. We talked about the variation in learning speeds between the rats and the weekly meeting that helps identify any issues and remedial action that might be needed to help rats which are struggling with their current stage. Saidi showed me through the Mine Detection Rats version of the LIMS (Information Management System). It’s a fairly old database system which still works more or less and Saidi is experienced in managing the system as well as dealing with IT issues across the site.
Judy gave me the most up to date list of which rat is at which stage of MDR training, and also the names of the 24 rats which are deploying to Cambodia this weekend, so I used it to complete more of the audit spreadsheet and that leaves most of the fields completed.
Today is Wednesday and so there’s a volleyball match at Gymkhana. It’s still raining and I already got rained on enough today so I just watched the volleyball from a distance and hung out for food, drinks, pool and chatting.
I’ve got a new hero. Genuinely. At Gymkhana this evening Arnaud came over to thank me again and congratulate me on the talk at the school. He said that his students had been really interested and had been discussing it afterwards. One of his pupils had come over afterwards to ask me if I had ever studied any forensics, so I was able to tell him about the forensics module I had done during my Explosives Ordnance Engineering Masters.
Arnaud joined us for dinner and he and I ended up talking about wildlife and adventure for quite a while. But I could have listened to him for hours. He loves wildlife and has been on so many safaris and has done lots of diving with sharks. He is a really inspiring teacher and makes such an effort to bring lessons to life for the kids. He spent 6 years teaching in Malawi, 2 years in Kenya and then 3 years here in Tanzania. His photography is really amazing and he has even been featured in newspapers. His website is here.
I had rotisserie chicken for dinner and it was absolutely delicious with coleslaw, smoked onions and tamarind sauce. I played a game of pool but did pretty terribly. I met some new people this evening; it’s such a multicultural bunch.
One funny thing about evenings in the rainy season is that if something hits you on the shoulder while you are walking outside, you can’t be sure whether it’s more likely to be a huge raindrop or a gecko or a big bug. This time is was a huge raindrop…

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