The lifesaving hero rats with a nose for explosives


Merry usually wakes before the sun rises and is driven to work along with 11 of her colleagues in Siem Reap province, Cambodia. They work for a few hours, napping between shifts. Her job, detecting landmines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO), requires a laser-like focus. It also helps that at about a kilo in weight, she’s very light of foot.

Merry is an African giant pouched rat, or Cricetomys gambianus, a docile and exceptionally smart rodent with superior olfactory abilities. She is one of a team of “HeroRATs” bred, trained and deployed by the Belgian non-profit APOPO, which is headquartered in Tanzania. After working successfully to help detect mines in Mozambique for more than a decade, and in Angola since 2013, the organisation partnered with the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) in 2015.

More than 64,000 casualties were recorded between 1979 and February of this year

Cambodia is one of the most mine- and UXO-contaminated countries in the world. At least 500,000 tonnes of ordnance was dropped by the United States as the war spilled over from Vietnam, while decades of conflict after the 1970s saw millions of mines laid throughout the country. According to the 2016 Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, more than 1,600sq km of land are still contaminated by mines and other explosive remnants of war.

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Source: Irish Times.