Adorable Rats Are Being Trained To Hunt Out Land Mines In Cambodia Decades After War

Pol Pot, the notorious leader of the Khmer Rouge, used to call land mines his “perfect soldiers.” Decades after the end of the deadly regime, the Cambodian countryside is still littered with millions of the explosives, and more than 63,000 people have been in mine-related accidents.

But the country will soon be far safer, thanks to some foot-long, furry allies.

APOPO, a Belgian NGO, has begun training African giant pouched rats — a common species in sub-Saharan Africa — to help detect deadly land mines buried throughout Cambodia. The project has been highly successful in war-torn regions of Africa, and the animals have helped clear more than 13,000 mines in Mozambique, The Guardian reports.

Bart Weetjens, the founder of APOPO, began breeding rats in 1997 and found they could detect the scent of the TNT used in the mines. The small animals scuttle across the ground without setting off any of the mines, and need only 20 minutes to cover an area that would take humans with metal detectors five days to investigate. When a rat finds a mine, it’s rewarded with a piece of fruit.

The mines aren’t the biggest danger the rats face — it’s the sun. The animals are nocturnal, and their sensitive ears need to be plied with sunscreen to protect them from sunburn.

APOPO is currently training 15 rats in Siem Reap at a cost of about $6,900 an animal — far cheaper than comparable human training programs.

Getty photographer Taylor Weidman spent some time with the rats and their trainers in Cambodia. Take a look at some striking photos of the mini mine detectors below.

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