Can rats help clear Africa’s landmines?

By | March 8, 2010

A rat at work detecting minesLandmines – brutal and indiscriminate weapons – are depressingly common in the developing world. Can the highly developed sense of smell of rats help to clear this scourge?

We rattled along the potholed dirt road, a thick plume of red earth spraying out behind us.

Four hours from the Mozambican capital, Maputo, we arrived in the small, dusty town of Chokwe. The reality of where I was going was only just sinking in. We were headed for the largest remaining minefield in Mozambique.

We were travelling with Apopo, a social enterprise that has come up with a unique way of clearing mines – rats. …

Drawing on the rats’ remarkable sense of smell, Apopo have found a way to train them to sniff out the TNT in mines. We’d already see them being trained in Tanzania. Now it was time to see them at work in Mozambique.

We all had to don protective clothing. Heavy and incredibly hot, it offered some protection but probably wouldn’t have saved us from deadly fragmentation mines.

We watched as the rats ran along wires between two handlers. When they smell a landmine, they stop, sniff the ground and begin to dig. This signal lets the Apopo staff know they have found a mine or some other explosive, which can then be removed. …

Rats, according to Apopo, are much faster than men using metal detectors and are not distracted by metal contaminants. They are much cheaper to maintain than dogs and are easily passed between different handlers.

So, from a business and economic point of view, the rats seem to make sense. …

via BBC News – Can rats help clear Africa’s landmines?.

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