Rodents to the Rescue

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Filed under: Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Rats and Cats Work to Sniff Out Mines
July 24, 2007

ceeebf08-c45b-4e01-923c-49d8f75020c3-small2.jpgBogota, Colombia (AP) — Who says Tom and Jerry can’t be friends? For the past year, a special Colombian police unit has been locking rats in cages with cats as part of a project to train the rodents to sniff out the more than 100,000 landmines planted mostly by leftist rebels across this conflict-wracked Andean country.

Bringing the rats face to face with an enemy allows them to stay more focused once they are released, veterinarian Luisa Mendez, who’s been working with the animals for two years, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“Here the cats play with the rats instead of attacking them,” Mendez said. “The cats wear shields on their nails so they can’t cause any injuries and as a result the rats feel comfortable playing around them.”

The rodents are taught to freeze in front of mines, but had difficulty staying put for fear of being attacked by predators.

Col. Javier Cifuentes, who oversees the project, said the rats’ success rate in mine detection is 96 percent. Unlike dogs, the rats weigh a lot less and therefore don’t trigger explosions.

Colombia is home to the world’s largest number of land mine victims. Last year, there were 1,108 victims, or about one every eight hours, the government says. Nearly a quarter of the victims die from their injuries.

The nation’s rat project was recognized last month as one of the five most innovative projects at a conference of behavior psychologists in Mexico, and its initial findings will soon be presented at a similar conference in Argentina.