Demining experts announced that a group of 20 mine detection rats have arrived in Cambodia and will go through three to six months of training before they begin operations. They are reported to be in healthy condition and are currently acclimatising to their new home, and new handlers.

Michael Heiman, Cambodia programme manager for APOPO – an international NGO that trains southern giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis – said on June 12 that the rats arrived in the Kingdom on June 5, after one year of intensive training at APOPO’s centre in Tanzania. The reason for arrival of the reinforcements is the expansion of demining operations in Preah Vihear province, thanks to funding by the Belgian government.

“In Cambodia, the rats will go through a six-week familiarisation training and accreditation. APOPO has been working in collaboration with CMAC since 2016, and currently has 64 working rats in Cambodia,” he said, referring the Cambodia Mine Action Centre.

CMAC director-general Heng Ratana said on June 12 that the newly arrived rats were still in training and would need between three and six months before they were ready for operations.

Ratana said the new intake had arrived to replace some of the current pool of rats that were slated to retire from service. A CMAC working group and APOPO were teaming up to create a new group of mine detection rats, he noted.

He said that after they are fully trained, the rats are expected to work on mine clearing for up to eight years. In the past, no rats had managed eight years of service, possibly due to climatic factors, as the heat in Cambodia does not suit them.

Ratana said the rats were extremely efficient in certain specific terrains.

“The rats are very useful and effective in any location that suits their characteristics. If a place is not suitable, we don’t deploy them. We set out our tasks very specifically, and when we have a situation that suits their skills, we use them ahead of using machines,” he said.

APOPO said on June 9 that handlers had been eagerly awaiting the rats arrival in Phnom Penh. They arrived safely, and after a period of rest and recuperation they finished the last leg of the trip to Siem Reap province by car.