A nose for trou­ble

CityPress - - News - LAU­REN CROTHERS projects@city­press.co.za

Merry usu­ally wakes up be­fore the sun rises and is driven to work along with 11 of her col­leagues. They work for a few hours, nap­ping be­tween shifts.

Her job, de­tect­ing land­mines and other un­ex­ploded ord­nance, re­quires a laser-like fo­cus. It also helps that, at about 1kg in weight, she’s light on her feet.

Merry is an African gi­ant pouched rat, an ex­cep­tion­ally smart ro­dent with su­pe­rior ol­fac­tory abil­i­ties.

She’s one of a team of HeroRATs that are bred, trained and de­ployed by the Apopo Foun­da­tion, a Bel­gian non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that is head­quar­tered in Tan­za­nia.

Af­ter work­ing suc­cess­fully to help de­tect mines in Mozam­bique and An­gola, the or­gan­i­sa­tion part­nered with the Cam­bo­dian Mine Ac­tion Cen­tre in 2015.

Cambodia is one of the most mine-con­tam­i­nated coun­tries in the world. The ef­fect of mines and un­ex­ploded ord­nance on communities has been noth­ing short of dev­as­tat­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures from the Cambodia Mines/UXO Vic­tim In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem, more than 64 000 ca­su­al­ties were recorded be­tween 1979 and Fe­bru­ary.

Teth­ered to a ca­ble and at­tached to han­dlers on ei­ther side, the HeroRATs work the ground with their noses, sniff­ing for trini­tro­toluene, a pow­er­ful ex­plo­sive sub­stance. They are able to check an area the size of a tennis court in 30 min­utes, much faster than a per­son with a de­tec­tor could.

“We never miss mines us­ing rats,” says Ven­de­line Shir­ima, Apopo’s in­ter­na­tional mine-de­tec­tion rats su­per­vi­sor from Tan­za­nia.

If you want to sup­port Apopo, con­sider adopt­ing a HeroRAT. For more in­for­ma­tion about

Apopo, go to apopo.org

Merry the rat, pic­tured here with one of her han­dlers, can check an area the size of a tennis court for mines in just half an hour

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