Rats to the rescue

APOPO has developed an innovative approach of using African giant pouched rats, nicknamed “HeroRATs” to detect landmines using their extraordinary sense of smell.
Too light to actually set off a landmine, the rats are much faster in detecting the mines than conventional methods using metal detectors.
CHF 150,204
2015 - 2016

Although Cambodia’s long civil war drew to a close in the 1990s, it remains one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. Today nearly 200 square kilometers of its land area is still contaminated by landmines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW).

These pose major humanitarian and economic challenges to the local population. In addition to causing deaths and injuries, mines and ERW contribute to food insecurity by limiting access to potentially rich agricultural land, while the cost of rural development projects is increased where land first needs to be declared free of landmines.

Working with its national partner, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), APOPO’s project will train 12 local rat handlers who will work towards an internationally set accreditation test. Once the test has been passed, the HeroRATs will be deployed to support existing APOPO/CMAC demining teams who are clearing landmines in 42 poor, mine-affected villages in the Cambodian provinces of Odder Meanchey and Siem Reap.

As a result, it is anticipated that nearly 1,000 people will benefit  as they restore their land to agricultural production. A further 11,600 should benefit indirectly from the demining of public areas and rural roads.

Mine clearance is recognized by the government of Cambodia as key to achieving effective poverty reduction in rural areas, and this project will help contribute to the country’s overall development goals. The project is also aligned with Cambodia’s commitment under the Ottawa Treaty to eliminate all landmines from the country by 2020.

APOPO is a Belgian Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with operational headquarters in Tanzania. It was originally established in 1998 in response to the global landmine problem – and specifically to address the slow pace and high cost of mine clearance.

Over time, APOPO’s mission has grown to cover the training of rats for a variety of humanitarian ends. In addition to mine clearance, it trains rats for tuberculosis screening and Remote Scent Tracing research.