It’s not the first time this has been done but it is the first time it’s been done in Cambodia, a country that continues to be plagued by landmines left over from past bloody conflicts. There are many new victims yearly but now they have help getting rid of landmines – from imported rats.
The rats being used are brought in from African countries and have been trained to detect landmines and are proving effective in clearing Cambodian fields of active mines. The project is spearheaded by a Belgium non-profit called APOPA. As Reuters reporter Prak Chan Thul reported in a story, the rats being used are Gambian pouched rats and they’ve been trained since the tender age of 4-weeks-old to sniff out TNT, a deadly ingredient in landmines.
The Cambodian government says that since 1979 the country has had 19,684 deaths as a result of adults and children stepping on a landmine, and almost 44,000 wounded. It is a horrific statistic that keeps getting added to each year and the rats, and their handlers, are working hard to do something about it, and in fact are finding and clearing landmines.
Hul Sokheng, a deminer in Cambodia, is working with the rats and says they are much faster at finding mines than humans. “They know their duty,” Sokheng says. “These are life-saving rats.”
And while they are saving lives, and limbs, they’re not risking themselves. They’re too light to set a mine off, they just settle over top of them once their olfactory glands tell the what’s below, and do a little digging. That signals their handlers that there’s a mine underneath.
The rats are then rewarded with some banana, and humans take over. The mine is eventually diffused and another patch of land is safe to farmers, children, hikers, to all Cambodians.
Cambodia is one of the most landmine-afflicted countries in the world and at one time 1 person in 235 in the country had stepped on a landmine or been hurt in the explosion when someone else stepped on one. The country continues to have the highest rate of amputees in the world but, with the help of some African rats, they are hoping to put an end to the accumulating of such grim statistics.