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A demining expert watches as a rat tries to detect landmines by tracing the smell of explosive material at a facility in Tanzania in 2004
A demining expert watches as a rat tries to detect landmines by tracing the smell of explosive material at a facility in Tanzania in 2004. AFP

Tests start for CMAC’s rats

Cambodia may have a new, and decidedly low-tech, tool for clearing active landmine fields: rats.

This month, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) began testing the effectiveness of rats trained to sniff out landmines and other explosives in areas of the Kingdom where decades-old bombs remain buried, CMAC director general Heng Rattana said yesterday.

“Our plan to test, we believe, will take three to four months to complete,” Rattana said. “We just started testing this month.”

Working with demining group APOPO, which trains the rats, CMAC has imported 10 of the nearly half-metre rodents from Tanzania, Rattana said.

According to APOPO’s website, the rats are suited to demining, because of their extraordinary sense of smell, trainability, and low weight that will not set off landmines.

If tests find the rats to be as successful as they have been in some Sub-Saharan African countries, they could begin work in problem areas of Cambodia in about eight months.

However, variables including the difference in climate and how deep underground explosives are buried could change their efficacy, Rattana said.

“It’s hard to say in Cambodia,” Rattana explained. “We’re quite concerned about these [upcoming] results.”

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