Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Rats being put to work in Colombia, training to detect explosives -

Rats being put to work in Colombia, training to detect explosives - 

At a Colombian National Police base in the outskirts of Bogota, the nation's capital, a new recruit is being trained.
This new recruit is unlike any other. It stands on four legs, has white hair all over its body and weighs slightly less than a pound. Its name is Rattus Norvegicus -- but it's more commonly known as a lab rat.
During a recent training session, trainers set the white rat on a patch of grass where they had hidden an explosive device underground. It took the rat less than a minute to find it. The rodent was showered with praise. Its trainers also gave it its favorite reward, a treat.
Though safer than a decade ago, Colombia is a country where landmines and car bombs are still a threat. Earlier this month, six people were killed by a car bomb targeting a police station in the town of Villa Rica in the southern province of El Cauca. The day before the February 2 bombing, nine people were killed and 70 were injured by another explosion in the neighboring province of Narino.
Edgar Ramirez, a second lieutenant with the Colombian National Police, says his country still "faces conflicts such as guerrillas, and criminal and paramilitary groups. There are many disputed territories because of the drug trade or simply to take control, and many groups set up land mines in these territories."
In the past, Colombian police used bomb-sniffing dogs; but the dogs' weight would often trigger the explosives. That's not a problem for lab rats that weigh slightly less than a pound.
And according to the trainers, their sense of smell is just as good as a dog's.
Colombia is not the first country to use rodents in this fashion. Rats have already been put to work in Mozambique to detect landmines.
Ramirez says that the only disadvantage he can think of about using rats is their short life span.


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