A batch of Gambian pouched rats are being trained to clear landmines left in Cambodia during the country's civil war. Jim Drury reports.
UPSOT: BANG Landmines remain a deadly problem in Cambodia decades after the country's civil war ended. But an army of elite rodents are coming to the rescue. Gambian pouched rats like this are trained to sniff out mines across the countryside. So Malen and colleagues are training 15 rodents to sniff out TNT explosives in fields. SOUNDBITE (Khmer) DEMINER AND RAT TRAINER, SO MALEN, SAYING: "When I came here, I watched how my supervisor trained the rats and now I can train them to sniff the air or run around an object or mine." The rats were sent from Tanzania by Belgian non-profit organization APOPO. They've been training since they were a month old. Supervisor Theap Thoeun says their highly developed sense of smell and agility make them more effective than human detectors. SOUNDBITE (Khmer) MINE DETECTION SUPERVISOR, THEAP THOEUN, SAYING: "I strongly believe that when we put these rats out to detect the landmines that it makes our demining operation faster and reduces rapidly the danger from mines exploding. The rats work a lot faster than humans, five to six times faster." Another advantage is that the rats aren't heavy enough to trigger explosions. Since 1979 almost 20,000 Cambodians have been killed by landmines, and double that number have been wounded. But with the help of these furry friends, Cambodia's authorities hope casualty rates can be drastically reduced.