With millions of landmines buried across the continent of Africa, the number of casualties to these unseen dangers each year is staggering.
This is why the Belgium non-governmental organization, APOPO, began to research the use of rodents to sniff out landmines.
Why African Giant Pouched Rats?
The founder of APOPO had a long history with rodents and once read an article about using gerbils to detect explosives. They believed that rat's exemplary sense of smell and intelligence would make them an effective and low cost means of landline detection.
After researching different breeds of rats, APOPO made the decision to start working with the African giant pouched rats. Not only do these rats have a sense of smell that rivals that of a dog, they are native to Africa. Found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of acquiring the African giant pouched rats is low and the rats themselves are comfortable with the region's harsh climate.
The only downside is that these rats are traditionally nocturnal, making them sensitive to the suns rays. This means before heading out into the fields each day their exposed skin needs a nice, thick layer of sunscreen to avoid burning.
Before the rats can enter the field, however, they need to undergo nine months of rigorous schooling and socialization. In this school, the rats are trained to detect buried landmines and signal their locations by digging.
Once they successfully locate a landmine, the rats are rewarded with a treat of their favorite fruit and their human co-workers step in to check and clear the mines.
The cost of training these rats equals approximately $6,800 USD per rat. While this may seem steep, it is much more cost effective (and quicker) then it would be to have humans do the same job.
On average, these rats are able to search 200 square meters of earth in a mere 20 minutes. To put this into perspective, it would take five days for humans using metal detectors to search the same area.
No Longer a Pest
As the use of mine-searching rats becomes more popular, the community opinion of African giant pouched rats has changed drastically. Once seen as a disease-carrying pest, these rats are now a welcome addition to the communities that they work in.
Knowing that they are working to save the lives and limbs of those in their community, it's hard to harbor any negative feelings towards the furry workers.
To learn more about APOPO and their hero rats, check out their website. You can even help support their training by adopting a rat!
Images via Global Giving