Mozambique's Mine-Detecting Rats
Fifteen years after the end of Mozambique's civil war, unexploded ordinance continues to pockmark the landscape. to the rescue come ... giant rats.
Two years ago, a European demining firm touched upon training local fauna to assist in mine location. Aside from being tameable and rather clever, the rats are too light to detonate the mines they're sniffing, so they're not disposable.
The rats are attached to little red harnesses and guided down the length of a 100-square-metre field by their trainer. When the rat hits on a suspected mine, it stops, sniffs and starts to scratch.
Fast-forward to 2007, and the rats have been a success. So much so that there's been a mine-detecting rat surge:
"The biggest problem in landmines is that from the moment there is a mine somewhere, a very large area becomes suspect and has to be cleared before people can go back to farming there," said Frank Weetjens, APOPO's representative in Mozambique.
Enter the gambian [sic]giant pouched rat, the latest weapon in the war to remove more than 100 million landmines scattered in some 60 countries that kill or injure an estimated 50 people daily.
Leaders of 143 countries met in Nairobi in November to plan the next steps in their global campaign.
"We started off in Africa because a very large chunk of mine-affected countries in the world are actually in Africa. And of these countries a lot have really dilapidated infrastructure because of that," said Mr Weetjens.
"For us there is a sense of priority for Africa. That is also why we looked for an animal that would thrive well in Africa," he told Reuters.
And thrive it does. The rat's home range is found throughout much of Africa. It gets its name from the large pouches on the inside of its cheeks, which it uses for carrying food.
Demining in Mozambique will soon get a boost with the arrival of more specially trained rats, local reports said on Thursday.
Radio Mozambique said the international demining company Apopo will soon receive an additional 15 demining rats to add to its current furry workforce of 25.
The rodents are used to sniff out mines -- an unfortunate legacy of Mozambique's civil war -- in the southern province of Inhambane.
Sam Macloud, spokesperson for Apopo, said Inhambane is one of the most heavily mined provinces in the country. “We want to have these areas cleared so that they can be used by the local population [to] build their houses or [for] agricultural activities.”