Could those animals we fear entering our house be saving lives?

The answer is yes. Gambian rats have been saving the lives of many people. They are being trained to find landmines in Cambodia, Thailand, Angola and Mozambique, thus saving many lives. In 2013 alone, over 3,000 people were injured or killed from landmines.

A Belgian non profit called APOPO started in 1997 training these African rats. ” These furry super-sniffers have helped clear 13,200 mines”. (National Geographic)

Now these rats are bigger than the kind we find in the US. They are cat size, but still small enough to not set off any bombs. They are trained from birth by a clicker. Once the rat smells the TNT they immediately start digging and then the trainer clicks a clicker and the rat is rewarded with food. The process takes about 9 months.

“One rat can search over 2000 square feet (200 square meters) in 20 minutes, an area that could take a human up to four days, APOPO training manager Abdullah Ramadhan says in an email.” (National Geographic)

The APOPO website is really neat and full of great information especially the Frequently Asked Questions page. And the good news is that no rats have been injured or killed in the minefields so far. And as a side note, the rats are also being trained to detect TB.

It is sobering to learn that there are 110 million landmines in the ground around the world. Each day over 70 people are killed or injured by anti-personnel mines. (Care)

I have to say that my respect level for rats has definitely gone up.  And once again, it is so nice to see human ingenuity at work solve problems and saving lives.