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Years of war in Southeast Asia have left millions of anti-personnel mines and other non-detonated explosives in the region, which continue to claim victims every year.
Getting rid of these devices is a long, laborious and extremely dangerous process. One method is to train animals to use their highly developed sense of smell in order to smell the explosive components.
This is particularly what the Belgian non-governmental organization APOPO (Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling, or in French Development of an anti-landmine detection product) is doing, which trains giant rats ( savanna cricetomas).
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Among these rats, Magawa is the best. In seven years, he managed to detect thirty-nine anti-personnel mines and twenty-eight explosives of other kinds. During his career as a minesweeper, he secured more than 141,000 square meters, which makes him the most successful animal in APOPO.
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For his good and loyal service, especially in Cambodia, Magawa was therefore awarded a gold medal by PDSA, an English charitable organization that helps pets.
Savannah cricetomas are very intelligent animals and are trained from an early age to tell their owners what explosives they detect. According to PSDA, Magawa can clear an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, whereas the task would take several days for a human being equipped with a metal detector.
Indeed, as they guide themselves by the smell, the rats can ignore the pieces of metal buried all over the ground in former conflict zones in order to go directly towards the explosives, which they smell thanks to the chemical agents used.
The PDSA recalls that three million mines are still present in Cambodian soil. During its systematic bombardment of the country during the Vietnam War, the United States droppedbombs. And the situation did not improve during the Khmer Rouge civil war and then the Vietnamese invasion that followed.
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