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I particularly like the fact that they're small enough to not be in nearly the danger a dog or human would be in. Go ratties!

Bomb-Sniffing Rats Save Lives in Africa

March 05, 2010 4:39 PM

ABC's Bradley Blackburn reports from New York:

Everyone knows that rats have a nose for garbage, but their sense of smell now serves another higher purpose -- sniffing out landmines to save lives. Bomb-sniffing dogs are a common sight in airports and other public spaces, but an organization called APOPO says that rats can do similar work, sometimes even better than a dog.

"We have 50 rats working in minefields in Mozambique at the moment," Mic Billet, the president of APOCO, said in an interview from his office in Antwerp, Belgium.

APOPO is funded primarily by the Belgian government, with a facility in Tanzania where they train some very talented rats. The rats look somewhat like the rodents found in American pet stores or labs, but they're much larger. Called African Giant Pouched rats, they grow about 2.5 feet in length including the tail, weigh over 3 pounds, and can live 8 years.

According to trainers, a rat's sense of smell works just as well as a dog's to detect mines, and the creatures' small size gives them some big advantage on the minefield. Not only are they easier to feed and transport, "their light weight makes it highly unlikely they would set off a mine by scratching or pointing," APOPO writes on its website.

As usual, click the link for the rest of the story (including a photo...)