Rats are the overlooked and under-loved poor relations of the rodent world. While they’re smarter than both hamsters and guinea pigs, there’s something about their teeth, or their eyes, or their tails—god, the tails—that just seems to freak people out. But perhaps the following news will change the public’s mind: Rats in Cambodia are giving their lives (if, yes, involuntarily) to help bring an end to the pain and injury caused by war.
The CBC has published a fascinating article about the use of rats to sniff out and identify land mines. The article follows the journey of Pit, a one-eyed two-year-old, and his companions as they alert humans to the dangers of unexploded mines in Cambodian fields. The rats, provided by Belgian non-profit APOPO, are literal lifesavers.
According to APOPO, the mine-locating rats have already been used in other countries where unexploded bombs still pose a real problem; they’ve been to Mozambique, Angola and Thailand, just to name a few. And the rats aren’t doing this instinctively. Trained from the age of four weeks, they can find mines in under 15 minutes on a good day (when the weather is clear). According to The CBC, Pit can go even faster; he found a mine in under 11 minutes on a day when visibility was bad.
The rats, which form an elite team, are imported from Africa and are rewarded for their efforts with fruit. And while that’s probably good enough for them (what is a rat going to do with piles and piles of cash?), it feels like Pit and his friends should get just a little bit more in return for their work. Considering that Cambodia’s recorded 19,684 deaths by land mine since 1979, maybe Pit can have two bananas next time? Or a grape?
Luckily, the rats are not dying in their pursuit of land mines. According to their handlers, the rats are too small to trigger the bombs. They’re still heroes, though. So next time you’re about to unleash a curse upon a rat who has accidentally entered your home in search of delicious cheese, thank its faraway cousins for the higher calling they’ve achieved.
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