This Huge Rodent Is Better Than A Metal Detector At Sniffing Out Deadly Land Mines
In some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, hidden land mines are a major threat to the civilian population. Left over from military conflicts that periodically sweep the continent, they often injure or even kill children at play and adults who are trying to work farmland or otherwise go about their daily business.
Finding and disposing of buried mines is usually a slow, difficult, and dangerous process because, while they can be located with electronic metal detectors, the devices constantly give out false alarms caused by such non-lethal pieces of lost or discarded metal as nails, screws, and machine parts. So, mine hunters in the formerly war-torn country of Angola are increasing relying instead on the Gambian rat, a native rodent with a cat-sized body and an exquisite nose for buried items that emanate odors, including explosives.
The Gambian rat, also called the African rat, or the pouched rat, is a common sub-Saharan species that has been domesticated. The animals are sold around the world in the pet trade—in fact, they’ve become an invasive species in Florida, where enough of them have escaped or been released to form a breeding population.
The Gambian rat has food pouches in its cheeks like a hamster, and at the end of their day wild rats often bury much of the food they have collected. Later, when food is in short supply, they sniff out and dig up the caches they made during better times. According to reporter Nicholas Kristof in a recent article about these living bomb detectors in The New York Times, it is this extraordinary ability to smell buried things that makes the rats so good at their job. But another advantage they have as living mine detectors is that, unlike many other animals with good noses, such as pigs, the Gambian rat, although huge for a rodent, is not heavy enough to set off the lands mines that they find.
And whenever they find a mine, the mine-sniffing rats are rewarded with a bite of banana.