As of September 8, 2008, it is once again legal to purchase, sell, and own Gambian Pouched Rats as pets in the United States. Gambians are the largest rats in the world, approximately the size of a house cat (weighing from three to nine pounds) and with a life expectancy of about eight years. Like all other rats, they are completely awesome. Imagine the kind of awesomeness obtainable from regular rats (see photo) and now imagine it…giant.
The rarely-observed "Hammock Double Nose Poke"
You're not sold yet? Well, they save a lot of lives. In Africa they are now widely used to detect landmines, which they do with 100% accuracy. They're better than metal detectors (Whoops! Missed all the plastic mines.) and obviously more economical. They're easy to train, they never tire of the "game" of finding buried explosives, and, unlike sniffer dogs, they're too light to trip a mine. A single human and a metal detector can de-mine a 100 square yard area in about a week. A handler and a rat can do it in 20 minutes. If this seems like an obscure talent, outside of the comfy Western world landmines kill 60 people every day and cripple 200 more. Yeah.
You're still not sold? They are being introduced into medical labs after trainers discovered that their noses can be used to detect diseases. Throughout Africa, tuberculosis still runs rampant. And a rat can be trained to respond to the smell. If you're thinking, "But microscopic tuberculosis bacteria have no odor, silly" then you are obviously not a rat. A human using fairly expensive lab equipment (which, you know, Africa tends to lack) can test 50 samples for TB in about 48 hours. A rat can do 100 in 30 minutes. No mistakes.
Are you not on board yet? They can fuckin' smell tuberculosis. What does it take to impress you? Oh, how about this: they're being trained to smell cancer too.
You should check out this website from a non-profit group which trains these little balls of awesome to help resource-poor parts of Africa rid themselves of landmines strewn across the continent in seemingly endless conflicts and TB. A few bucks to help them out will probably save a couple kids from getting a leg blown off. And if you're really bored at work, check out the slideshow of how they're trained to de-mine. Pretty awesome.
Now excuse me, I have to find an exotic pet dealer.