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How rats are used to find unexploded landmines in the jungles of Vietnam

A man with a African giant pouched rat

The Vietnam war is one of the most famous wars in recent history - a brutal conflict that cost many lives, primarily fought in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

It ended in April 1975, but anyone who has ever seen a survival show where the likes of Bear Grylls spend time in the jungles of Vietnam knows the landscape is still littered with literally millions of unexploded landmines.

This presents a significant problem for anyone who has to enter the jungles of Vietnam and the neighboring country, Cambodia.

READ MORE: Stunt performers, landmine removers and cell tower climbers: The hardest jobs in the world

Many of the mines are on the ground and can be spotted if you keep your eyes peeled.

The bad news is that many more are buried beneath the ground, which makes the jungles incredibly dangerous places to visit.


Cambodia is taking on the problem in a very innovative way.

Scientists have discovered the African giant pouched rat has an incredible sense of smell.

This makes them particularly good at smelling out TNT, an explosive commonly used in landmines.

Their noses are so good they can even smell out explosives that have been buried for decades.

Another interesting fact about the rats is that they can also be trained to sniff out tuberculosis in sputum samples.

The Cambodian government has imported the rats to take part in projects to find and safely remove wartime landmines.

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The other good news is that the project creates jobs, as the rats need looking after.

The rodent gets paid in food, and the handlers are paid around $10 a day - which isn't a terrible wage in a country where the average pay is around $7,000 a year.

The most famous giant African pouched rat

Believe it or not, one rat has become legendary in the world of landmine discovery.

Magawa died in January last year after sniffing out more than 100 landmines and other explosives in his five-year career with the Tanzania-based international charity APOPO, allowing them to be safely removed.

Time Magazine carried a tribute to the rat after his death.

Image: Wiki Commons 

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