PNOM PINH, CAMBODIA – Cambodia has imported rats from Africa for the purpose of locating landmines and unexploded ordnance in the country.
The giant rats are being used to sniff out landmines in the war-torn country, where there are as many as three million mines still scattered across the countryside.
Heng Ratana, director general of Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) said, the team of 15 rats, some weighing up to 1.2 kilograms were imported from Tanzania in April with the help of a Belgian non-governmental organization “Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development” (APOPO) and are now undergoing training in the northern province of Siem Reap.
There have been claims of success stories involving demining rats in several African countries including Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola.
The rats are now being trained by experts in northwestern Siem Reap province, home to Cambodia’s famed Angkor temples complex. But one of the rodents has already died probably because of the change in climate, he said.
The shift from using dogs to rats is being considered by several countries to save costs. A typical mine-sniffing dog may cost up to US$10,000 each (335,000 baht), while using rats is far cheaper.
Ratana said it is “too early to say” whether the rats will be up to the job. He said they will be tested for a number of qualifications, including if they can sense all mines at one particular spot, can sense the depth of a landmine, the speed of detection and their suitability among others.
According to statistics provided by CMAC, more than 67,000 Cambodians were killed and injured by mines and unexploded ordnance since 1979. Last year, more than 200 people were killed and injured.
However, on average, between 150,000 and 200,000 landmines and unexploded ordnance devices are cleared every year by several demining agencies including CMAC and the Mine Advisory Group.
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