Right pet for the job
BOGOTA, Colombia – For the past year, a special Colombian police unit has been locking rats in cages with cats as part of a project to train the rodents to sniff out the more than 100,000 land mines planted across this conflict-wracked country.
Bringing the rats face to face with an enemy allows them to stay more focused once they are released. The rodents are taught to freeze in front of mines, but had difficulty staying put for fear of being attacked by predators.
“Here the cats play with the rats instead of attacking them,” veterinarian Luisa Mendez said. “The cats wear shields on their nails so they can’t cause any injuries and as a result the rats feel comfortable playing around them.”
The rats’ success rate in mine detection is 96 percent. Unlike dogs, the rats weigh a lot less and therefore don’t trigger explosions.
Colombia is home to the world’s largest number of land mine victims. Last year, there were 1,108 victims, or about one every eight hours, the government says. Nearly a quarter of the victims die from their injuries.