A Belgian nonprofit has found African giant pouched rats are much better at detecting TNT than people or dogs.
African giant pouched rats—huge, cat-size rodents native to central Africa—have bad vision but an extraordinary sense of smell.
This makes them perfect candidates for discovering hidden landmines by sniffing out the explosive TNT. Even decades after conflict, explosive remnants of war linger in the earth, maiming and killing thousands of people who stumble across them each year.
In 2013, mines and other buried explosives caused 3,308 casualties worldwide—down from 4,325 in 2012, according to the 2014 Landmine Monitor report.
Finding these hidden explosives is challenging and dangerous: People with metal detectors not only risk their lives, they work slowly, stopping to investigate every suspicious ping. Trained dogs, while commonly used, are expensive and tough to transport.
Enter APOPO, a Belgian nonprofit that has created an army of TNT-sniffing African giant pouched rats. These critters are light enough to walk over the mines without setting them off, and use their noses to find the explosives quickly.
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.
Since APOPO was founded in 1997, these furry super-sniffers have helped clear 13,200 mines from minefields in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, and, most recently, in Cambodia.
read more at nationalgeographic.com