The next time you see a rat and shudder, think of the upsides.
In Cambodia, rats are proving to be a key component in the solution to the longtime problem of active landmines throughout the country. According to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, between four and six million landmines remain throughout Cambodia, many of which rest in rural areas. These pose an ongoing public health threat and, further, affect potential land use for farming and commercial development.
APOPO, a non-profit currently working in Africa, Colombia, and Cambodia, is committed to fostering a safer landscape through the use of trained rats. In addition to clearing landmines in affected areas, their rats can also quickly detect diseases to aid understaffed clinics in developing nations, allowing for patients to receive test results in under 24 hours. The mission began twenty years ago when their founder, a Belgian rat owner and enthusiast, discovered that his pets could be trained to detect things like landmines and tuberculosis. He then secured funding and support in order to develop a program that prepares rats to find buried explosives and disease-carrying objects lodged underground. The rats’ roles vary from country to country, but in Cambodia, they are used to survey vast swaths of land quickly and to inspect sites after mines have been removed. It takes 9 months for the Giant African Pouch Rats to complete their scent and field training, after which time they’re sent to work.
So far, APOPO’s team in Cambodia has found over 45,000 landmines, subsequently freeing up more than 15 million square meters of land. Their work will continue to expand and rats, though often avoided in day-to-day life, have proven themselves to be a most valuable asset. If you want to get involved with the project, you can even adopt one of APOPO’s Herorats and receive regular updates as your rat is on its mission. You can also donate to the organization to fund further research and new projects. Each donation goes a long way—just $10 clears 10 square meters of the minefield.
Learn more about APOPO’s work on their website HERE