A mine-clearing program in Cambodia that uses rodents to detect remnants of mines buried in the earth has cleared its first minefield, meaning local villagers will now be able to safely farm in the area.
Apopo, a Belgian NGO that runs the HeroRats program, announced early Saturday that 89,280 square meters of land were cleared, "making the land safe for families to resettle and utilize the land for agriculture once again."
Cambodia is one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. According to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), an estimated 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of land are affected by ordnance. Apopo has pioneered the use of giant pouched rats - an intelligent rodent that is both light of foot with a keen sense of smell - trained to detect the scent of explosive material. They are harnessed and deployed to sniff the ground in small grid sections. If they think they've come across something suspicious underground, they scratch at the ground, which signals for their handler to investigate further with metal detectors.
Apopo quoted local resident and landmine survivor Seany Oeurn as saying that her eldest daughter was "shocked to hear that the landmines are still present in the field where I was injured. She believed that once the landmines are old then they become inactive. We were even more surprised when APOPO and CMAC found two active mines there the previous week. Now my family are finally safe." CMAC director-general Heng Ratana told Anadolu Agency (AA) that while the HeroRAT program was still in the operational trial phase, "we can say that it's a remarkable success of the integration trial. The rats are... able to identify landmines in the real minefields and that is a remarkable success of the detection system of rats to help our deminers find the landmines." The field in question is located in Siem Reap province, and Ratana said more than 10 mines and other unexploded ordnance were cleared by the Apopo and CMAC teams. The rat program is still in its trial phase, he said, but once complete, it will be integrated into the country's standard operating procedures for mine clearance. The first group of HeroRATS arrived in Cambodia in April 2015.