The giant Gambian pouched rats go through nine months of gruelling training, learning to sniff out the TNT in old landmines buried underground.
The rats are the largest of their kind in the world – the same size as a domestic cat – have an excellent sense of smell and are quick learners. They are also light enough to walk over the mines without setting them off.
Once the rats have finished their training APOPO, supported by the UK’s Department for International Development, send them to Mozambique to start work on the minefields. One trained rat can search an area 14 times larger than a human mine clearer per day, hunting explosives and scratching at the ground to raise the alert.
Mozambique went through nearly thirty years of war from the mid-1960s to 1990s. While the fighting has long since stopped, the tens of thousands of landmines left behind continue to claim innocent lives. Miles of valuable land has been turned into a deathtrap.
But in 2014 Mozambique is set to finally be declared landmine-free, thanks to the work of international donors, charities and these furry heroes. The rats have cleared nearly 2,500 mines as well as over 14,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance, small arms and ammunition.
The rats’ talents aren’t limited to hunting landmines. APOPO are also using them to sniff out tuberculosis in saliva samples and even to find survivors in disaster zones.