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Generations of military techniques are being revolutionized by… rats, bees, and elephants.

Countries are getting creative in the ways that they are dealing with buried landmines. They present a serious problem for many war torn countries, where land is unusably dangerous: Every year thousands of people are killed by them, with an estimated 30-40% being children.

But creative solutions are being developed; countries have been employing some unusual methods of detecting and deactivating these deadly bombs.

Rats that Trap… Landmines

There’s nothing cheesy about the rats that are saving lives around the world:

Magawa is trained as a rat that traps: he is skilled at smelling out and detecting land mines. It’s an adorable game of hide-and-squeak for this Tanzanian-born African Giant Pouched Rat, as he seeks out bombs. His handlers say he has saved lives.

“Even among his skilled cohorts working in Cambodia, Magawa is a standout sniffer: In four years he has helped to clear more than 2.4 million square feet of land. In the process, he has found 71 land mines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance,” according to NPR.

Although we wouldn’t want to meet Magawa– Pouched Rats are the size of house cat– there’s no denying that he’s done great work.

One African President remarked on the program that he thought rats were just for eating, but he’s been impressed with their ability to detect land mines.

Magawa retired after five years of service. No gold pocket watch, but he did receive a gold medal in recognition of his life saving efforts. It was the first time a rat received the distinction in 75 years of animal heroics ceremonies. His fans commend him for retiring while still in good health.

The Bees Knees

Bees are taking the sting out of buried landmines: “Honeybees can be trained to locate landmines with an accuracy of better than 97.5%.”

The sweetest thing about bees is that they are achieving incredible results in clearing land. In the past, dogs have been used in detecting landmines: the bombs deposit trace amounts of chemicals into the air and earth, according to an article by Nature Physics.

Incredibly, dogs are able to detect concentrations of chemicals down to one part per trillion and below but they are expensive to train. And trainers have found that eager dogs will occasionally trigger the mines in their efforts to draw attention to them, which puts the dogs and their trainers at great risk.

Happily, bees have a similar level of smell to dogs. And there are lots of them. Simply adding a chemical to the bees’ feed-syrup causes them to associate this smell with a source of food. 

Their swarming patterns are tracked remotely, which leaves military personnel and scientists comfortably safe to pursue their detection.

A Trunk of Talents Worth More than Peanuts

If elephants never forget, we’re glad that they’re on our side when it comes to bomb detection.


Elephants’ special talent for detecting landmines was discovered following a brutal civil war in the country of Angola. As they migrated away from the conflict, some of them stepped on buried landmines, causing them devastating injuries.

But researchers learned that the elephants that followed were able to avoid getting hurt. With their incredible sense of smell, and yes memory, they were able to travel to a National Preserve unharmed.

Elephants are now trained to sniff out and alert their handlers of buried landmines. It’s an exciting development for scientists that have spent decades attempting to craft technology that could do the job. 

They call it the Cocktail Effect: Just like you can sort out the sound of a specific voice at a crowded cocktail party, elephants have the ability to sort out for highly specific scents. It’s made them invaluable at saving lives that would otherwise have been lost to forgotten landmines, according to How Stuff Works.

Between dogs, bees, and rats, elephants actually have the most promise in this field. Scientists believe that they possess twice the olfactory capacity of dogs, that’s five times the ability of human beings. They have a staggering 2,000 genes that are devoted to sifting through scents.

But don’t worry about the elephant in the room– military scientists aren’t giving elephants field assignments. They plan to gather samples from around suspicious sites and then have their trained elephant partners sample to see whether or not landmines may be present in that area.

Whatever unconventional methods they’re using, it’s good to know military scientists are multi-tusking a swarm of new methods that put a ro-dent in countries’ buried landmines.


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