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According to the Centers for Disease Control , approximately sixty-seventy million landmines are scattered in approximately seventy countries across the globe. Each year an estimated 24,000 people, mostly civilians, are killed or injured because of these landmines and other unexploded ordinance. Detecting these mines has always been a dangerous and expensive process, but a Belgian man has come up with safe and cost-effective solution: giant rats .

Giant pouched rats are not what spring to mind immediately when conversation turns to the global issue of unexploded landmines.  However, Bart Weegens, from Belgium has found a low-technology answer to the continuing issue of unexploded mines.  A childhood interest in the animals came to mind when he was musing over possible solutions and this led to an extraordinary development.

The idea occurred to Weegens as he realized that rats were both easy to train and had an excellent sense of smell.  Combining these two would, he considered, provide a cheap way to detect unexploded mines and – what is more – with limited danger to human life.  He founded APOPO, which is a non-profit organization, the aim of which is to train up African Giant Pouched Rats and to deploy them in the field. Not only would the rats be a cheaper alternative to mine clearance methods already in use – he figured that they would be considerably more efficient as well.  An army of sniffer rats, would, it seemed save hundreds if not thousands of human lives.

These amazing rodents—which are treated as both pets and food in many African countries—can also be used to screen for tuberculosis . In less than ten minutes a rat evaluates the same number of samples a microscopist can handle in a full day.

(Via: The Presurfer )

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