Colombian Police are training rats to detect explosives and by 2013 the creatures are expected to be put into action helping the Colombian Armed Forces to find land mines, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported Monday.
It took five years in the laboratory and four generations of rodents to prove that these animals are capable of detecting and locating explosives. They are able to detect seven different substances; ANFO, black powder, C4, detonation cord, Pentolite, TNT and ammonal.
The rats can work in harsh weather conditions and amid the distracting noise of gunfire. Furthermore their agoraphobia – fear of open spaces – was diminished so they are able to operate in the open.
According to Luisa Fernanda Mendez, chief researcher and veterinarian, said there needs to be a least one more generation of lab rats before these animals can begin to help with the removal land mines from rural areas and the discovery of explosives in urban areas.
“They, like other mammals, transmit information from generation to generation and only now, with the fourth generation do we have a success level of over 90%,” said Mendez.
So far the rodents have been tested in land areas of up to 32 square feet. They will be ready when they are capable of working in real terrain.
The use of rats to detect mines has many advantages. Rats do not detonate the explosives, which often happens when dogs are used. They are also easy to transport and only need a training period of 90 days.
Colombia has the highest number of landmine victims in the world after Afghanistan. From 1990 until June 2011 there were 9,397 reported casualties of landmines, according to the Presidential Program for Integral Action against Anti-Personnel Mines (Paicma). This project was financed by the Ministry of Defense.