Giant Rats Trained to Sniff for Landmines in Cambodia

The rats are already at work in several African countries including Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola.

Cambodia is training an elite squad of rats, imported from Africa, to sniff out landmines and other unexploded ordnance in the once war-wracked kingdom, authorities said on Friday.

A team of 15 rats, some weighing more than 2 1/2 pounds, were imported from Tanzania in April with the help of a Belgian non-governmental organization, which trains rats to sniff out mines, Heng Ratana, director general of Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), told AFP.

"If the rats pass the test, we will use them... if they are not qualified, we will end the program," Ratana told AFP.

He said there have been claims of success in using rats to sniff landmines -- as well as detect tuberculosis -- in several African countries including Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola.

The rats are now being trained by experts in northwestern Siem Reap province, home to Cambodia's famed Angkor temples complex.

But one of the rodents has already died probably because of the change in climate, he said.

Experts plan to begin testing the rats over the next few weeks.

The rodents will be put through their paces on a number of tasks, including to establish if they can sense all types of mine, whether they can detect buried ordnance and how fast they work, he said.

"They will test the rats in actual landmine fields," he said.

"At this stage, it is too early to say if we can use the rats," Ratana said, adding that two Cambodian mine experts had been trained in Tanzania and they were now sharing their expertise with their colleagues.

Nearly three decades of civil war gripped Cambodia from the 1960s, leaving the poverty-stricken nation both one of the most heavily bombed and heavily mined countries in the world.

Last month, a new Cambodian underwater demining team pulled an American-made bomb from the Mekong River for the first time as the country battles the wartime legacy of unexploded mines that have killed thousands -- detonating when trodden on.

Teams of deminers face the unenviable task of trying to locate and safeguard huge quantities of unexploded ordnance that has killed nearly 20,000 people and wounded double that number since 1979.

According to Cambodian government statistics, 154 people were killed or injured by leftover mines in 2014, and 111 the year before.

Some of the giant rats imported from Africa weigh more than 2.5 pounds.

January 11, 2011 - They are elusive. They squeal. And they eat almost anything, even each other. And because of all of that, public health officials have not developed any reliable way to curtail the rising population of rats. Add to that budget cuts and cities like New York City, become inundated with the rodents. Frustrated subway workers are drawing attention to their workplace rat problem by offering a free MetroCard to whoever snaps the picture of the nastiest rat in the subway. TWU Local 100, the Transport Workers Union, launched the site, Rat Free Subways in October, 2011, according to Jim Gannon, the union's director of communications.

"There were fewer refuse pickups and the garbage was piling up in some stations," Gannon said. "And if you have a food source, you have rats." The Jamaica Center - Parsons/Archer subway station in Queens, New York has had an ongoing problem with rats, Gannon said. This rat above is feasting on some trash at the station.

Besides getting signatures for a petition to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to adopt a system-wide "rat eradication initiative," the site offers riders a place to "feel some kind of ownership," Gannon said.

The Rat Free Subways site also offers a share your "Rat Tale" section for subway riders to vent about their face to face rodent encounters. "Aggressive rats are bolder about coming onto the platforms, and have even been known to bite riders," according to the web site.

This photo of a giant rat, was reportedly taken after it was discovered at a Foot Locker in the Bronx. Another huge rat was reportedly stabbed with a pitchfork in Brooklyn last year. That one was believed to be a Gambian pouched rat and may have once been a pet or descended from a pet.

The subway workers efforts have paid off for the Parsons/Archer stop. The MTA added trash pickups for the spot, Gannon said. "There are health issues for the workers and for riders," Gannon said. "The subway transit is everywhere in the city. And if you have an exploding population of rats down there. They are going to come up and be everywhere." The Rat Free Subways contest ends January 15. Rats Help Their Friends Get Free