Trained rats help clear Cambodian minefields

Rats are being trained to help "sniff out" mines across the deadly former battlefields in Cambodia.

Gambian pouched rats have been deployed to Cambodia from Tanazania by a Belgian non-profit organisation APOPO to help help clear mines, the Reuters news agency reports.

The intrepid mammals have been in training since they were four weeks old, and can detect trace levels of TNT and other explosives in the soil.

One of the mine-hunting rats in training on a dummy minefield in Cambodia. Credit: Reuters

A main advantage of using rats is that landmines pose no danger to them because the rats are not heavy enough to trigger an explosion.

On average, it takes a trained rat 11 minutes to detect a mine - work that could take a human deminer up to five days.

Upon successful discovery of a mine, the rats are rewarded with chunks of banana by their handlers.

APOPO has used the rodents for mine-clearing projects in several countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.

A deminer from the Cambodian Mines Action Centre, a government-run demining organization, posts warning signs in a mine field. Credit: Reuters

Cambodia is still littered with landmines and other deadly relics following decades of war, including the Khmer Rouge 'Killing Feilds' genocide of the 1970s.

The Cambodian Mine Victim Information Service has recorded 19,684 people killed since 1979 by exploding ordanance and landmines.The handlers of the rats see their companions as more than just living bomb detectors, however.

"They are not just rats, they are like my brothers," said 41-year-old handler Meas Chamroeun.

Perhaps equally as remarkable, rats from APOPO are also trained to detect tuberculosis.