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1902 - Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali), Gen. E.F. Beale's Syrian camel driver, dies at Quartzsite, Ariz. [story]


Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jul 26, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelLandmines continue to be a problem all over the world, especially is developing countries. In Africa alone, there were more than 18,000 casualties between 1999 and 2013. Not only do these land mines cause death and destruction, but they also cause continued terror, and the areas where land mines exist cannot be farmed or developed.

And the nations that are affected desperately need this land. As long as there is the possibility of landmines, there can be no development.

minesA man named Bart Weetjens from Belgium has come up with an ingenious idea that actually works. Rats. African giant pouched rats, to be exact. These rats are very large – about 10 to 18 inches. They have very large cheek pouches, hence the name, “pouched rat.” They do not have marsupial-type pouches for their young.

As a child, Weetjens kept rats and other rodents as pets. He found they were easy to train. Using his childhood knowledge, he came up with a plan.

Weetjens wanted to solve the devastating minefield problem. People who tried to clear minefields were continually getting blown up. But rats can detect TNT.

Rats6The rats are trained for mine detection when they are small. They are trained in a sand box with tea balls stuffed with TNT. When they find the correct balls, they are given a reward of bananas and other tasty treats.

The trainer uses a clicker and gives the rats similar training that dogs, cats and other animals receive. The rats are set into the minefield on a leash; they sniff out the TNT, and when the item is found, they hear a “click,”which means food, and they get their food reward.

Once the rats have conquered the sandbox training, they are moved to an area in a test field. There are real and deactivated mines in these fields. In 9 to 12 months, the rats are fully trained and ready for clearing actual minefields.

Rats3The rats are so lightweight, they cannot detonate a mine – which is great news for the rat. The good news for us is that they can clear a landmine field faster and safer than people or dogs. And they are much cheaper to operate, obtain and train. Mozambique has cleared more than 2,400 land mines. Thailand has begun working with rats and is identifying hazardous zones along the Cambodian border.

When a rat has indicated all of the mines within a minefield, the field is cleared manually by a human de-mining team. Afterward, the area is inspected by a second rat to make sure the area is completely clean. The de-mining team destroys the landmines that are found.

African giant pouched rats are also being used in medical clinics to detect tuberculosis. There may be many other ways for rats to assist humans. Who knows? Someday they may even be able to sniff out cancer.

Note: African giant pouched rats were once sold in the U.S. as pets. They can no longer be imported or raised here because they were associated with a domestic outbreak of monkeypox.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

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Comment On This Story
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5 Comments

  1. Linda says:

    I love sensible solutions, interesting article on land mines and rats.

  2. What does this have to do with Scv?

  3. Jack Murphy Jack Murphy says:

    what a silly article.

  4. Only land mines I see around here are when owners don’t pick up after their dogs….

  5. S. Schroeder says:

    I enjoyed this article. Thanks.

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