The many conflicts throughout the world since WW2 have left behind a deadly trail of landmines, which are deadly, destructive and hugely damaging to anyone who is unlucky enough to be caught in a blast. Apopo, a company based in Belgium, has been training rats for over 20 years to help make former war zones safer for people to return to.
Landmines can be detected by people with metal detectors, which is a long slow process, or they can be sniffed out by African giant pouched rats, which take a much shorter time to do the same task because they are trained to pick up the scent of a chemical in the explosive. This means that scrap metal will be ignored and thus save time when the area is being cleared. Rats are also small and light enough not to trigger the land mines when they walk over them. Once detected, the mines can then be made safe and the area cleared.
Super-sniffer, Magawa, who was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal, sometimes known as the George Cross for Animals, can search an area the size of a tennis court in 20 minutes, which is something that would take a person with a metal detector between one and three days to complete. During his 5-year career, Magawa has detected 71 landmines and dozens more other unexploded devices in Cambodia, where it is thought that there are up to 6 million landmines. However, he will soon be heading into retirement, but not before he helps some new recruits to settle in!
Until next time, keep calm and apply some Science!