Mine-Sniffing Rats on the Job in Africa

In Africa, giant pouched rats are being trained to detect landmines. German shepherds, long used to sniff out mines, are vulnerable to African diseases and heavy enough to set off mines. The rats, working in groups, get the job done.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

The African continent is riddled with landmines, especially in countries like Somalia, Sudan and Mozambique. So why not employ a local animal to help clear the minefields? Seattle Times reporter Sandi Doughton writes this week about Henrietta, an African giant pouched rat who is well on her way to becoming a certified landmine detector.

It turns out these rats, when rewarded with food, are especially motivated and adept at sniffing out deadly ordonnance(ph) buried in the ground.

German shepherds have long been used as mine sniffers, but they're expensive and vulnerable to African diseases and are heavy enough to set off a mine.

According to the Seattle Times, four-to six-pound rats like Henrietta, are too light to detonate the mines. They live up to eight years so they give a good return on a 10-month investment in training.

Bart Weetjens, who came up with the idea of using the rat, says that when multiple rats work the same area, they are just about perfect at making it mine-free.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.