Cambodia will soon employ ‘Hero Rats’ to detect mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) by the end of this year.
“The first batch of rats is training to help their human counterparts to clear land still contaminated with mines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) after decades of war,” Anadolu Agency reported Today.
Apopo, an organization that trains Giant African Pouched Rats says that the rats can sniff out mines that are in many ways better than other detectors.
“The rats, for example, are very good at finding mines over large areas where we believe the mines to be scattered,” James Pursey, communications manager for Apopo, told Anadolu Agency this week.
“This is because they ignore scrap metal like old coins, nuts and bolts and only sniff TNT” - mines' main ingredient.
The rats are trained with a simple click-and-reward system - “clicks" rewarded with usually bananas or peanuts, their favorite treats.
The click sound is quickly established as a conditioned reinforcer associated with a food reward. Once the rat learns that click means food it will now have to search for the target scent - in this case TNT - to earn its reward
Over time, the rats receive these treats for more specific tasks – the sniffing of a hole, telling explosives such as TNT or C4 apart from other smells, and finally the behavioral flagging of a mine by scratching the soil.
For their ability to save lives, the rodents are called HeroRats.
Apopo says its focus is not solely on finding a large number of mines; it lies on making agricultural land safe and releasing it to the local population.
“So for example in a village, one mine accident with, say, a cow, will keep everyone off that land forever, until we have arrived, found any remaining mines and declared it clear,” Pursey told Anadolu Agency.
Once trained, the rats can search 200 square meters (656 sq. feet) in 20 minutes - a task that would take a human deminer with a metal detector between one to four days.
The rats will come in handy in helping to demine the about 2,000 sq. km. of Cambodian soil still believed to be contaminated.