Mozambique in Africa faced a massive challenge of how to quickly clear 1.2 million landmines. Based on the average speed of human demining and the unknown specific locations of each mine, it would take hundreds of years to clear them all.
Considering the relatively short history of human civilization, it seemed absurd for the people of Mozambique to deal with landmines for generations. However, Mozambique was already severely impoverished and categorized as one of the world’s poorest regions. With extremely low levels of productivity and technology, how could the people of Mozambique tackle such a daunting task?
The results of their demining efforts surprised everyone. Despite Mozambique’s poverty, they came up with a clever plan to use animals for demining, increasing efficiency and freeing up local labor. So, what magical animals were they using, and which adorable creatures could accomplish such a challenging task? Mozambicans did not solve the landmine problem quickly; instead, they went through a series of experiments and explorations, considering the high danger associated with landmines(sources from resopp-sn.org).
Initially, Mozambicans used human labor for demining, slowly detecting mine locations with instruments and then digging them out for disposal. However, the results were minimal, with people exhausted, and many mines still hidden. The situation was worrisome, as without clearing these mines, local people couldn’t lead normal lives and were at constant risk of being killed by landmines.
Using demining dogs was proposed, as canines are known for their keen sense of smell, especially for the distinctive odor of TNT explosives in landmines. While this method seemed theoretically feasible, the practical implementation posed challenges. Firstly, where could they obtain a large number of demining dogs? Secondly, professional demining dogs typically have fixed handlers, making the process cumbersome.
More importantly, Mozambique’s climate is hot and humid, and demining dogs might not adapt well to the conditions. When dogs arrive in Africa, they are susceptible to virus infections, making it unfavorable for demining projects. Hiring demining dogs not only requires significant funds but also involves complicated medical treatment and settling arrangements, making it impractical for impoverished Mozambique. They needed an alternative solution.
At this point, the attention shifted to the Gambian pouched rat. Through various animal experiments, the Gambian pouched rat demonstrated exceptional agility and a sense of smell comparable to dogs. Crucially, these rats could be trained and directed purposefully through feeding. Hardworking and well-trained Gambian pouched rats, with a length of 0.75 meters, are widespread in Africa and the Americas. They have a gentle temperament, excel at finding and storing food, and possess a sensitive sense of smell.
Gambian pouched rats proved to be a novel and effective demining solution for Mozambique. Locals focused on training these rats, rewarding them with ample food for each successful demining task. The rats displayed agility and cuteness during demining, quickly digging the ground with their front limbs upon detecting the smell of TNT explosives underground. This allowed demining personnel to easily identify the exact locations of the landmines. Compared to demining dogs, Gambian pouched rats were more agile, required less food, and adapted well to the local environment, equipped with antibodies to resist various bacteria and viruses in Africa(quotes from resopp-sn).
Who would have thought that the adorable and gentle Gambian pouched rat would be a master at demining, accurately locating buried mines and swiftly digging the ground to inform personnel of their exact positions?