Experts estimate 20,000 people have been killed by land mines in Cambodia since the civil war ended in 1975. The organization that is leading the country’s effort to remove the explosive devices is training rats to smell the mines. When the animals smell a mine, they make a mark on the ground and workers remove the deadly device.
Experts estimate more than one million land mines are still in the ground in Cambodia. More than 100 people were killed in land mine explosions in the country in 2013.
The Cambodian Mine Action Center is working to remove them. In addition to human de-miners, the group has trained 15 Gambian pouched rats, a larger rat than many people have seen. Some people keep them as pets. They are said to be intelligent and have a strong ability to smell. The rats are trained in Cambodia to detect the smell of explosives in land mines.
One mine detection manager for the group says he believes that when rats are used to find land mines, the de-mining operation goes faster, and the danger from exploding mines is sharply lowered. He says the rats work five or six times faster than humans.
Rats can examine an area of 100 square meters in less than 20 minutes. A human de-miner would need four to five days to examine the same area. In addition to working fast, the rats also do not weigh enough to cause a land mine to explode.
Trainers begin working with the rats when the animals are just one month old. A non-profit group in Belgium sent the rats to Cambodia from Tanzania.
A de-miner and rat trainer says when he began his job, he watched how his manager trained the rats. He says now he can train them to find the mines by smelling the air around them.
When a rat correctly identifies a mine by its smell, it scratches the ground and is given a banana as a reward.
VOA Correspondent Maia Pujara reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it dfor VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
land mine – n. a bomb that is buried in the ground and that explodes when someone steps on it or drives over it; sometimes written as one word: landmine
de-miner – n. a person who works to find and remove landmines from the ground
detect – v. to discover or notice the presence of (something that is hidden or hard to see, hear or taste)
scratch – v. to make (something, such as a mark, a line or letters) in the surface of the ground by using a stick, a sharp tool or a hand or paw
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