Rats speed de-mining in Mozambique

Mozambique pushes to meet its landmine-free deadline

Specially-trained rats are being deployed to detect landmines in Mozambique in a push to have the nation declared landmine-free this year.

Some 80 African giant pouched rats have been trained by Belgian non-governmental organisation APOPO to locate buried landmines by conditioning the animals to associate the scent of explosives with the reward of food.

When the Mine Detection Rats (MDRs) come across a buried mine they scratch at the ground to alert the team of mine removal experts who follow them armed with metal detectors.

The rats are able to check 200 sqm of land for mines in 30 minutes and so far APOPO has safely destroyed 2,500 mines in Mozambique. Last year the agency cleared 250 hectares of Mozambican land of unexploded mines left over from the country's 16-year civil war that ended in 1992.

Mozambique is attempting to fulfil its obligations under the Ottawa Treaty, a 1999 agreement which requires the country to eradicate all landmines.

Originally Mozambique had ten years to clear its mines but the deadline was extended by five years in 2009. Recently the deadline was extended further still, until 31 December 2014.

Apopo works in Tanzania (for training and breeding the pouched rats) in Thailand (along the Thai-Cambodia border) and in Angolo (for de-mining)

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