Support: Rats, Cats and Landmines

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August 2, 2007: Colombian de-mining experts have found the key to using rats, rather than dogs, for detecting mines. It involves locking up the rats in the same cage with a cat.

 

While rats have just as sensitive a sense of smell, and are less likely to set off a mine, they are much more jittery than dogs. While a dog can be trained to halt and stay still when, and where, it has sniffed out a mine, rats will only do that in training. When taken to an unfamiliar location to search for mines, the trained rat will be too nervous, and fearful of being attacked, to be still when it has sniffed out a mine. The solution. Colombian researchers found, was to lock rats up in cages with cats (who are trained to be calm around rats, and have their claws covered just to be sure). The rats soon become comfortable around one of their primary enemies, and that enables them to calmly search for mines in new surroundings. The rats, however, must be kept away from normal cats, otherwise the newfound fearlessness around their natural enemy will get the rats killed.

 

Because leftist rebels have been using landmines heavily to protect their remote bases, and to terrorize civilians, Colombia has become the most mined nation in the world. Last year, there were 1,108 people, mostly civilians, who were killed or injured by these mines. The police is in charge of de-mining an area after the rebels have been driven away, and it was police researchers who developed the methods for training rats to help.

 

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