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NatureGround >> Crazy sh!t rats can do.


9/8/10 7:34 PM
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Cire
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Edited: 09/08/10 7:34 PM
Member Since: 1/1/01
Posts: 9526
 
Would you have the balls to trust this animal?

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Full CNN link) -- Niko Mushi hated rats, as did most people in his village near Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro -- until he learned the critters had a nose for land mines.

Before he started working with rats, Mushi had a comfortable job teaching the Kiswahili language at a Lutheran seminary. He was terrified when he first took one of his long-tailed protégés into a Mozambican minefield.

He'd heard stories of accidents involving the mines, mostly leftovers from Mozambique's civil war, which ended in 1992. He was not emboldened by the skeletons of soldiers and others who'd taken unfortunate steps before him.

But his rat found 16 land mines that day.

It's difficult to quantify the scourge of land mines in Africa. Experts are reluctant to give statistics, but it's safe to say there are single countries hosting millions of them.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines says land mines and related devices were responsible for 73,576 casualties worldwide from 1999 to 2009. Campaign data from 2007 say there were 5,426 recorded casualties, with almost a fifth of them in 24 African countries.

Death and injury, however, are only two ramifications of the buried terrors, said land mine expert Havard Bach, formerly of the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining.

Unexploded ordnance renders roads, highways and enormous swaths of land useless, Bach said. Fear lingers for years after a single accident, holding back growth, movement, development and opportunities for commerce and aid.

"One mine in an area is enough to prevent an entire population from making use of it," he said.

Upon study, the rats' advantages emerged.

Their olfactory senses are superb. They're native to Africa, so tropical disease is no problem, and they rarely weigh more than the 3 to 10 kilograms required to trip a mine, Bach said. It also helps that the mine-sniffing rats are not bonded to individual trainers or prone to ennui, as dogs are, he said.

"If you compare them to canine mine detectors, it's pretty much the same in terms of sensitivity and capability," Bach said, noting that dogs are better equipped to work in brush or high grass that might conceal a rat.

Training begins with socialization when the rats are 4 weeks old because "it's really important they learn man are friends," Weetjens said.

A system of Pavlovian conditioning follows. Trainers teach the rodents to associate a clicking noise with something tasty: a banana or peanuts. The same treats are used to teach them how to signal when they find a mine and how to detect the scent of TNT in tea balls.

The final phase before they're shipped to Mozambique for accreditation includes several trial runs in APOPO's training minefields, some of which contain tea balls, others live mines.
9/8/10 8:35 PM
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GRYAN
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Member Since: 9/29/02
Posts: 1220
Africa needs our rats...I'm in, whats the address ?

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