An African giant pouched rat sniffs for traces of land mines at APOPO’s training facility in Morogoro.
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83,000 land mines have been neutralized in Africa and Asia thanks to the rodents, APOPO says, saving countless lives where explosives still maim and kill up to 20,000 people – many of them children – each year.Eyebrows were also raised when the group – whose acronym stands for Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development – branched out in 2007 to use rats for TB detection, under contracts with local authorities.When a rat identifies a "true" positive, it is rewarded with a banana-peanut butter mixture.The negatives are not necessarily suspicious but become "suspect," and subjected to further testing, if the rat reacts.APOPO now employs 222 rats – 108 for demining and 42 TB detectors.After six to nine months' training, the "HeroRATs," as APOPO calls them, are sent to Mozambique, Angola and more recently Cambodia to comb former battle zones – but this is no suicide mission.At 1 to 1.5 kilograms, the rats are big enough to attach to a long, thin leash as they scan areas but light enough not to set off mines, which are cleared by human cohorts.
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