Landmine Rats: A Heroic Side To A Common Pest

Rats are very much a common pest for UK residents. Here at Empire, we do rat control on a daily basis. London is full of the rodent species, and they cause a nuisance for residential and commercial properties. So it was a surprise to us to hear about this new hero rat. These specially trained landmine rats are now used for the safe and accurate alternative to other methods of discovering landmines. This is really helpful, because in certain countries someone is killed or injured by stepping on a landmine every fifteen minutes.

Nowadays, landmines have become the weapon of choice for terrorists. They use them to block access to farms as well as food and water supplies. In a mine zone, carrying out basic tasks for farming becomes a very dangerous endeavour. And then decades later, even when these regions are no longer involved in active warfare, the landmines still remain behind.


landmine in the ground


A Global Issue

In over 70 different countries there are around 110 billion landmines in the ground, with another 250 billion stockpiled and ready to be planted. Landmines have been used as far back as the 15th century in France. By the 19th century they were in common use.

Few survive after a mine has been detonated, but those that do lose limbs, suffer from hearing impairments and blindness. Most landmines are in developing countries where access to the proper medical care and equipment is rare. Many people’s injuries then become irreparable, and result in permanent and disabling handicaps.

So what is being done to get rid of these landmines? Traditionally they are found using metal detectors carried by workers or machines. This method has proven to be highly inaccurate, and can’t detect plastic mines either.

But one organisation has found a solution, and has turned the common rat into a land mine finding machine. Anti-Personnel Landmine Detection Product Development (APOPO), a Belgian Non-Governmental Organisation has transformed the way that we are finding and destroying landmines. And this method is the giant rat.

Rats, although classed as pests to us, can safely travel across these mine fields without the possibility of detonating even one single mine. This is because a mine requires at least four kilograms of pressure to explode.


danger landmine sign


Landmine Rats‘ Training

These super rats are taught to respond to the smell of TNT. Rats are trained using conditioning techniques bought about by behavioural psychologists. This is where behaviours are shaped to happen under specific environmental conditions by manipulating different consequences.

By nature, rats have an amazing sense of smell. This is how they sniff out the smallest crumbs in our home, then decide to nest and cause an infestation. When the rats pass anything, they will often take a moment to sniff it. The trainers for this operation have taken advantage of this, where they place small amounts of TNT in holes. The landmine rats then pause over the holes, and a clicker which is a reward paired with food is sounded. If they pause at any other time, the behaviour is ignored.


danger landmine sign


The End Result

So when the rats finally walk through a mine field after all of their training, they pause only when they smell TNT. This makes it easy for the workers to then map out where all the mines are located in the area.

Often times, two different paths walk the same path to ensure there is better accuracy and to verify the results. Any mistakes made can be recorded and then retested again.

Land mines are easy to make and easy to plant. But they are so hard to detect and remove. They kill thousands of people every year, and wreak havoc on civilian lives who rely on farming for their survival. Which is why we’re so glad that something so simple (and often annoying) as a rat can be used for such a good cause.

By using these highly trained rats, the APOPO have cleared millions of square metres of land. This has drastically reduced the trauma inflicted on the people who live there, and has saved many lives too. Given the amount of mines still out there, our hero landmine rats still have a lot of ground to cover, but steps are being made towards that.


Meanwhile… Back in the UK

We still have a serious rat control problem in the UK, and Empire are here to help you combat any infestations you may have. Our team of professional pest controllers are trained to handle rat infestations of any size. It’s so important for your family’s health and safety to deal with a rat problem immediately.

Remember to check out the signs of rats in the attic and the best tips and tricks for rat prevention. If you do have a rat control problem in your home, get in touch with one of the team here at Empire for 24 hour emergency pest control.