Promoting Life-Saving Rats

PROVO, Utah – Mar 28, 2017 – A shopkeeper saw a drastic increase in business and felt greater confidence in the safety of his family and community because of a rodent that some may call vermin—a rat.

A group of BYU students did a social innovation project with APOPO last semester with the chance to work with these life-changing rats. APOPO is a social enterprise that trains Gambian pouch rats to detect hidden landmines and concealed cases of tuberculosis, saving thousands of lives.

Since APOPO began, the rats have detected 105,024 landmines, opening over 21 million square miles of land back to locals who had previously lived in fear. The rats have also detected 11,054 additional tuberculosis cases and screened 402,017 samples for tuberculosis.

APOPO tasked the SIP team to market the group’s rats to zoos to raise awareness for their cause in the United States. Without any prior research, the team had to figure out how to create exhibit designs and present them to zoos across the country.

Robin Toal, the head of public fundraising at APOPO, said the BYU students he worked with were enthusiastic, passionate, insightful, creative, and know how to put ideas into action.

“It was a brand new project and involved a number of difficult aspects, including importation of a non-indigenous animal from overseas, identifying the procedures and networks necessary to get access to zoos, and developing professional materials that have established the foundation for APOPO to make what was just an idea a reality,” Toal says.

Alex Resney, a marketing major who was also on the SIP team, said there are still new and innovative ways to solve perpetual world problems.

“[APOPO is] looking at problems through a different lens,” Resney says. “They didn’t say, ‘Oh we’ll solve tuberculosis. Let’s get more doctors in here. Let’s ship those samples back to America.’ They said, ‘Let’s figure out a better way.’ And they’ve found that not only rats can do it, but they do it quicker and more effectively.”

Bailey Fruit, a public relations major who worked on the project, said she came into the project with APOPO thinking she knew how to go about marketing the rats, but the bigger lesson she learned was how to be flexible and learn.

“I realized how much we were capable of,” Fruit says. “It gave me experience, was something awesome to put on my resume, and helped me recognize that I can achieve a lot.”

Media Contact: Alicia Gettys (801) 422-9009
Writer: Michaela Proctor