Bomb-Detecting Rats Join Colombia’s Police Force

Rats, unlike dogs, don't set off landmines when they detect them, police say.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images/Science Photo Libra
    Colombia's national police are training rats to sniff out landmines.

    It’s out with the dogs, and in with the rats.

    Lab rats are being trained at a Colombian National Police base near Bogota to become the region's top bomb-sniffers, CNN reports.

    That's because in Colombia, conflicts involving guerrillas and paramilitary groups aren't uncommon — and their explosives pose a threat to public safety.

    “There are many disputed territories because of the drug trade or simply to take control, and many groups set up land mines in these territories," Edgar Ramirez, a second lieutenant with the Colombian National Police, told CNN.

    And while Colombia's national police used to have dogs sniff out the explosives, the weight of the animals often would set off the bombs.

    The rats don't weigh enough to detonate landmines, however — and according to trainers, rats' sense of smell is just as powerful as dogs'.

    The downside to the rats, according to Ramirez, is their lifespan, which he says is only three to four years.

    In the meantime, the rats are learning their new tasks quickly. In one recent session, a rat — weighing just under a pound — took less than a minute to find an explosive device hidden underground.

    So far the rodents have been trained to detect seven kinds of explosives including ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, gunpowder and TNT.

    Luisa Fernanda Mendez Pardo, a veterinarian who specializes in canine explosive-detection training, directs the rat project. Her team has successfully trained more than 70 rats since its inception four years ago.

    "The main goal is to tackle a humanitarian problem in Colombia," Mendez told CNN.

    "In my career, I have seen many civilians, police officers and soldiers who have been killed or severely injured in mine fields. It has become a personal challenge, and I want to use this project to help my country."