Bart Weetjens had a lifelong fascination with rodents. And as the issue of unexploded mines became an international news story he began proposing using rats to discover them.
Weetjens got a grant from the Belgian government to pioneer this technique in 1997 and now rats are being used almost exclusively in Africa to find and detect mines. In fact, according to the Skoll Foundation, these rats have already returned 1.3 million square meters of suspected minefields to original populations in Mozambique
And now Weetjens enterprise APOPO has started to use rats to diagnose tuberculosis in patients.
Mozambique has been afflicted by civil war, and mines were used extensively throughout the conflict and have remained a major problem for decades.
Typically humans clear potential minefields with metal detectors. The process is extremely slow and expensive.
But populations of people and cattle have been taking the risk of moving back toward land that might contain mines.
Training rats to find TNT isn't much different from training dogs. A TNT cartridge is put into a hole at the bottom of this case.
In fact rats are so easily trainable and reliable at detecting smells that they have been put to use at clinics.
But it is their work in mined fields that has rats suddenly being trained on three different continents to hunt for mines.
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