19. Wrapping up my time with APOPO including a Full Cheek Friday Feast

My two weeks at APOPO has flown by. Today is my last day and so I’m feeling a little sad but it really has been amazing and I think I’ve made the most of it. I started today in Lily’s office as usual but we had a coffee and actually finally got round to completing her interview.

I spent some more time with the backpack rats, training to signal that they have detected chamomile tea while they are also wearing a weighted backpack. The research team are investigating whether it might be possible for the rats to be trained to run free off the lead, maybe to run through rubble piles to detect survivors.

Ten rats are being trained in this particular experiment: four familiar with chamomile, four transfering from nutmeg, and two who are new to the soil floor experiments though they have been in the line cages. Today I saw Pereka, Chifupa, Lukapo and Mercylina.

Mercylina was very new to it and she didn’t like being in the backpack but the others were doing quite well. The training was being overseen by Pendo, but in an informal sense, was also being closely monitored by one of the young vervet monkeys that lives here.  The cheeky monkey was definitely after the banana treats for the rats!

Abhi was on the soil table for some discrimination training – having to identify which of the buried tea-eggs contain TNT and which ones don’t.

I got a lift over to the TB lab to see the rats gorge themselves for Full Cheek Friday. When I arrived, some of the rats were still working and two staff members were preparing the feast. It’s funny to see the TB staff walking back and forth between two doors holding rats going to and from work.

Full Cheek Friday was so amazing! The rats are so cute and loads of them squeak with delight when they are handed the food. Today each rat had a mix of food pellets (which all immediately got stuffed into pouches), a whole banana, half an avocado, a ripe tomato and a chunk of watermelon. This gets washed down with some peanuts and dagaa (tiny dried fish loved by people and rats). I had bought a treat for the retired rats, so Mica took me over to the main office when she was finished with work and we fed cashew nuts to all the rats in the retirement village (as I call it…).

I said goodbye to the rats and then had 5 minutes to get changed before getting a lift to Mica’s house while she got ready to for us to go out for dinner. Lena joined us and I had a great conversation with her about lots of cool hobbies. I found out that it was Lena who created the origami rats that I’ve been seeing around the office and hanging in the cars! We went to Dragonaires for dinner, the usual Friday haunt, but it was my leaving meal so lots of extra people from the office came out. It was really nice to be able to say goodbye and we all enjoyed a Full Cheek Friday.

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