Meet the super rats trained to detect mines and save innocent lives maimed or killed by undetected landmines
Super rats are being used to detect deadly land mines – saving thousands of lives each year.
The highly trained rodents – named Mine Detection Rats, or MDR for short – have helped clear an incredible 11million square metres of contaminated land.
Using their highly tuned sense of smell the rats are able to sniff out explosive material and alert a highly trained team who can safely explode the mine.
To date the rats have uncovered 50,000 explosive remnants – including not only mines, but other unexploded bombs across Mozambique and Angola.
There success has contributed to Mozambique being on the verge of declaring itself mine free.
A spokesperson for APOPO said: “Rats are used only to sniff out mines and other explosive remnants of war and their light weight means they do not detonate mines.
“They scratch the ground when they find unexploded landmines that are then destroyed in situ by a manual demining team with metal detectors.
“The great advantage of rats is that they are fast, thus cheap, to deploy because they only react to the scent of explosive, whereas deminers need to investigate every alert their metal detectors make, be it scrap metal, an old coin, or an actual landmine.”
The scheme was set up by Bart Weetjens, who had pet rats as a child and noted their amazing sense of smell.
But it was only many years later after seeing an article about gerbils being used to detect explosives at airports, that he settled on the idea.
After gaining a grant from the Belgium government to fund APOPO, he began training Giant African Pouched rats to fulfil the mine sweeper role.
There long life spans and easy adaptation to the tough African conditions made them ideal.
The APOPO spokesperson added: “The idea to train rats to detect landmines came along in 1995 and it was our founder Bart Weetjens, who started developing the idea and later initiated the first research activities.
“There has always been scepticism about using animals – not just rats – for detection.
“So the idea to use the extremely sensitive sense of smell of rats to help solve humanitarian problems was (and sometimes still is) met with a lot of scepticism.
“Bart had a very tough time ‘selling’ his idea and proving that it could actually work.
“However, the proof is in the results and after being operational for a few years, APOPO’s rats have proven themselves in the field as efficient and low-cost assets for detecting landmines.
“The mine detection rats are much faster than traditional approaches used for detecting landmines like manual deminers with metal detectors.
“Over the years, the TB detection rats have proven themselves to be at least as accurate as conventional routine microscopy, but up to 20 times faster.”