On his ninth birthday, Belgian Bart Weetjens received a hamster as a gift. This marked the beginning of his passion for rodents, and he began to observe them with fascination. He bred mice, rats and hamsters to sell to pet stores throughout his adolescence. During the same period, he was also intrigued by weapons and joined the cadets. This interest was short-lived, as he soon developed a deep aversion to all aspects of war and violence.
After studying to become a product development engineer, Bart Weetjens worked on several projects in Europe and Africa. It was by chance that he learned that before the First World War, rats were trained to clear mines in some areas ravaged by war. Intrigued, he decided to develop this specialty in partnership with the University of Antwerp, using his knowledge of rodents. In 1997, the organization APOPO was founded and its HeroRATS began their life-saving careers.