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This pouch rat is sniffing for land mines. This rat is sniffing for land mines in Mozambique. (Joao Silva for The New York Times / Redux)

Rats With a Mission

These rats save lives by sniffing out underground bombs before they explode

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After finding land mines, rats are rewarded with bananas (Joao Silva for The New York Times / Redux); rats are currently clearing mines from Mozambique (Jim McMahon)
After finding land mines, rats are rewarded with bananas (Joao Silva for The New York Times / Redux); rats are currently clearing mines from Mozambique (Jim McMahon)

The African giant pouch rat would send cats running: It’s about 30 inches long from head to tail. But this special species of rat has become a hero to humans.

A Dutch company, Apopo, has trained the rats to detect land mines, a kind of bomb. It used to be common for soldiers to bury mines during wartime. They would hide them underground or underwater, where people couldn’t see them. Many countries have banned land mines. Some, however, like Iran and Pakistan, are still using the bombs.

But unexploded bombs stay hidden long after wars have ended. The United Nations estimates that more than 2,000 people a month are killed or injured by land mine explosions worldwide. Many organizations now exist that try to safely remove mines from old minefields.

Apopo’s rats can explore a possible minefield and point their noses to buried mines. Don’t worry! The rats are always safe because they are too light to set off the mines.

After several months of training, a rat can cover and clear as much land in 20 minutes as a human can in two days. In Mozambique, where 3 million mines were planted during 30 years of war, the rats are clearing mines on land that can then be used for farming.

Click here to visit Apopo’s Web site and find out more information about these heroic rats.

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