Africa leads the world on super-trained bomb sniffer-rats
LONDON – Highly trained sniffer-rats could become the latest weapon against landmines after one was taught to smell out explosive devices.
Staff at Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary near Liskeard, Cornwall, have been teaching Gambian poached rat Kofi to alert handlers when he detects a mine.
Kofi is too small to set off the booby-traps but his acute sense of smell can pick up the scent of the bomb casing.
Rats have been trained in Africa to hunt for land mines but Kofi is the first to undergo the program in Britain.
Handler Wendy Winstanley now plans to contact the Army and the police anti-terror unit to offer her rats’ services for use both home and abroad.
She said: "Kofi is amazing, his sniff ability is really incredible. People think of rats as vermin but they are highly intelligent creatures.
"They have a more heightened sense of smell than dogs and because they are so much lighter they have less chance of setting off an explosive.
"Obviously we don’t have land mines in this country but I’m so happy with his development that I would be happy to send him to the Gambia if he was required.
"In this country these rats would be excellent at sniffing out bombs. If the anti-terror police wanted me to I would interested and more than happy to train them."
The bomb sniffing training process begins when rats are five weeks old and are weaned from their mothers.
Trainers begin socialising the young rats to the sights, sounds, and textures of the world by walking them on wet grass, going for a ride in a lorry and interacting with humans.
Then the sniffer rats are taught to recognise the smell of metal land mine casings in return for a food reward.
Thirty sniffer rats are already being used in Mozambique, Africa, and have proved incredibly successful for the detection and removal of land mines.
The rodents are fitted to a leash before scrambling their way over a piece of ground, sniffing out any explosives.
A trained rat can clear 100 metres square in 30 minutes, equivalent to two days work for a manual de-miner.
The rats are about 75 cm long (30 inches) and weigh about 1.35 kilograms (3 lbs) which means they can scamper across a minefield without detonating the charges.