Bitcoin Donations Can Now Fund Mine-Detecting 'Super Rats'

Belgian nonprofit APOPO is now accepting bitcoin donations to fund its land-mine and tuberculosis-detecting giant rats in Africa and Asia.

Dec 30, 2014 at 11:18 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 11:24 a.m. UTC

Belgian NGO and social enterprise Apopo is now accepting bitcoin donations to fund innovative humanitarian projects in eight countries across Africa and Asia.

With the announcement, it joins an increasing number of non-profits and charities that use bitcoin to tap into new global sources of revenue. The donations are being made through a partnership with payments processor BitPay.

Notably, Apopo uses giant pouched African rats for humanitarian purposes. Nicknamed 'HeroRATs', the rodents are trained to detect land mines and tuberculosis using their extraordinary sense of smell.

Speaking to CoinDesk, CEO Christophe Cox emphasised the common vision of Apopo and bitcoin to empower and support people in developing economies through the means of modern technology.

He said:

"We see bitcoin as a young, unique technology that matches with our overall vision, and this is our way of giving recognition to other innovators we believe in."

“Although there are some risks with bitcoin, such as if its legality will be challenged, we also know that early adopters of such technology tend to be at the cutting edge when it becomes an industry standard,” he added.

Why rats?

Since 1998, Apopo’s trained rats have found more than 37,000 unexploded land mines and bombs in six countries, and identified over 7,000 tuberculosis sufferers in Tanzania and Mozambique.

Giant pouched African rats grow up to 0.9 metres (3 ft) long including their tail. Their poor eyesight means they have evolved a very keen sense of smell. This, combined with their intelligence, placid nature and long lifespan (up to eight years), means they are ideal for training as cheap, reliable detectors of explosives or disease.

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Non-Profit Embraces Bitcoin To Fund Science Rats

The organisation says it costs an average of $7,300 to train one rat over nine months. This compares favourably with the use of mine detection dogs, which generally cost $25,000 to train.

Apopo receives donations from around the globe, predominantly the US, UK, Germany and Belgium.

According to Cox, bitcoin is an obvious tool to make it easier for supporters to get involved wherever they are, and he expects bitcoin will be one of Apopo’s mainstream donation channels in the future.

He said:

“There are clear advantages to receiving bitcoin donations over traditional methods, such as lower or no transaction fees, and as a way of reaching a younger online audience who are aware of global issues and savvy with new technology.”

As payment processors like BitPay and Coinbase do not charge fees for non-profits, the entire donation goes to charity.

Apopo is not the only non-profit organisation seeing the potential in bitcoin. Last month, the Ghana start-up Bitcoin Against Ebola was launched, alongside charities such as Save the Children, American Red Cross and Greenpeace, which have all joined the bitcoin community.

Disclaimer: CoinDesk founder Shakil Khan is an investor in BitPay.

Rat images via Apopo/Flickr


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