Mine-Sniffing Rats on the Job in Africa

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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.


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.

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