Colombia Turning to Rodents in Battle Against Land Mines

By Dialogo
January 11, 2011

Dear Sirs I believe that rats are the most suitable to find the location of landmines, however we count on the U.S. to locate the mines despite the fact it would be one by one and time consuming and we need to develop a method to provide us with a general map of the locations of the mines. This way we can detonate them in sequence as we will gain time and agility in the action. There is in Bogota and Switzerland studies with electromagnetic waves for detonations in series; however I request contact with CCCM AND THE SWEDISH EMBASSY TO EXCHANGE IDEAS. I WILL KEEP SEARCHING AND IF I FIND OUT ANYTHING I WILL WARN THEM; MEANWHILE I CAN ONLY WISH LUCK AND SUCCESS TO YOU. IN CASE OF FURTHER HELP, PLEASE NOTIFY MR. CARLOS DE MORAES Interesting information. Brilliant!!! An animal that can to learn this work. Congratulations to the those who put this into practice!!! They should be praised!

Bogotá, D.C., Colombia, - Colombia is second only to Afghanistan in its
annual number of land mine victims, according to a recent report by the Landmine and
Cluster Munitions Monitor.
But Colombian officials are hopeful that a new program that uses rats to
detect the deadly hidden weapons will improve those statistics.
Colombia recorded 764 land mine victims in 2009, according to the study
released on Dec. 10 and sponsored by USAID, the International Campaign to Ban
Landmines and the Embassy of Sweden.
Although that number dropped by almost 15 percent from 2008, the countryside
in many parts of the nation still is dangerous, especially because armed insurgent
groups continue to plant mines.
“The situation in Colombia remains dire. We still have the second highest
number of victims of land mines in the world, only surpassed by Afghanistan. But
worst of all are the armed conflict and the use of land mines as weapons of war by
insurgent groups," explained Álvaro Jiménez, director of the Colombian Campaign
against Landmines (Campaña Colombiana Contra las Minas – CCCM).
International Landmines Monitor and CCCM are especially concerned about mine
injuries to civilians employed in the eradication of illicit crops. About 180 of the
2009 victims were working on drug eradication efforts when injured, including 52 who
lost their lives.
Colombia has taken important steps to eliminate the land mines, according to
International Monitor. Authorities have swept and cleared mines from 326,223 square
meters out of the nearly 50 square kilometers where mines are believed to have been
planted.
“Direct research and corroborating information have revealed that land mines
are present in 650 municipalities. However, we must point out that the records are
not precise with regard to the number of victims. In many parts of Colombia,
especially where insurgent groups are active, such cases are not reported because
people are afraid of the insurgent groups," said the director of CCCM.
Colombia has also asked to delay the deadline for complete removal of mines
by 10 years, and their request to keep 586 mines for military training, pursuant to
the provisions of the Ottawa Convention.
According to statistics gathered by CCCM, out of the 32 departments in
Colombia, only the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina are
free of land mines, while the most affected departments are Antioquia, Meta and
Caquetá. These figures also indicate that at least 650 of the almost 1,200
municipalities have landmines buried in them.

Turning to rats

The National Police plan to eradicate illicit crops and land mines has for
more than four years experimented with using rodents ─ in addition to their use of
trained dogs ─ to detect anti-personnel mines in various parts of the country.
The idea was borne from the APOPO organization's experience in Tanzania.
APOPO researches, develops, and deploys detection rat technology for humanitarian
purposes. It is a registered charity in Belgium and is headquartered in Tanzania.
APOPO has led demining programs in that African country with enviable
results. In fact, Tanzania no longer is listed as having a high number of land mine
victims.
Top levels of the Colombian police forces and the Ministry of Defense gave
free rein to those conducting the experiments using rodents to detect buried mines,
mindful of the fact that mine-detecting dogs often activate the mines because of
their weight.
The rats used are from the species Rattus norvegicus, better known as albino
rats, and they are trained in four critical phases.
In the first, they try to socialize the rats to humans and other animals,
such as dogs and cats. At the same time, the rats are trained to tolerate unusual
sounds without scurrying away and hiding.
“In the first phase, they primarily try to reduce the animals' stress levels
so that they can interact more calmly with their environment and not be startled by
humans or animal species from which they would normally flee," stated the project's
scientist, Luisa Fernanda Méndez, DVM, in reports provided to Diálogo by the
Communications Office for the Colombian National Police.
After the animals achieve a high level of sociability in their environment,
the training efforts next focus on the rodents’ ability to recognize orders so they
can respond to stimuli from the technicians who are in charge of training the
animals. This recognition ability is necessary so they can be used without leashes
or harnesses.
The third phase in training the rodents to detect landmines is exposing them
to explosive substances, first in the lab and later in the field. They are trained
in 10 meter by 10 meter quadrants in order to prevent the rodents from being easily
distracted while they are tracking odors.
At first, the trainers build mazes in the lab with corridors and pathways
that have different types of smells, but especially the scent of explosive
substances. This way, the animal can learn to identify the scents and relate them to
an incentive. When they are able to track and identify them with over 90 percent
accuracy, the trainers begin the rodents’ field training.
In the field, the albino rats, or the rodent demining squad, are trained in
areas at measuring at most 10m x 10m, with barriers between the quadrants. This
allows the animal to devote its full attention on searching for its object, “the
treat”.
In the fourth phase, trainers focus on the animals’ diets, ensuring that they
are always sated and can concentrate their efforts on searching for the “treat” they
receive for detecting the explosives.
During this phase, trainers condition the rodents to not be distracted by
edible plants or insects so their senses are focused on finding explosive
substances. Their reward for finding explosives is a simple sugar pill, which the
rats find irresistible.
“The key is to develop a strict diet for the animal, so it is always
satisfied and is only waiting for the treat. It can then focus on obtaining the
treat and will not be distracted by other things that, in the field, it might
consider as food, such as worms, flowers and grain,” stated Dr. Méndez’s report.

Why rats?

The decisión to employ rodents to detect landmines is largely due to the
animals’ low weight, which makes it all but impossible for them to detonate the
mines, Colombian police informed Diálogo.
The researchers’ experience indicates that the lightest weight that will
activate an explosive device is 420 grams (14.8 pounds). Albino rats never reach
this weight, and therefore they run the least possible risk in searching, detecting
and clearing fields of mines.
At least this is what was demonstrated during clearing efforts conducted by
Apopo in Tanzania. This allowed them to achieve a significant reduction in the
number of victims among the persons involved in deactivating these lethal devices.
Colombia’s new demining rodent squad is scheduled to begin operations in the
first few months of 2011.
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