African giant pouched rats MDRs (Mine Detection Rats) are trained to sniff out explosive chemicals like TNT in landmines and ignore the scrap metal that metal detectors pick up. This makes them extremely fast and cost effective landmine detectors.
One MDR can search up to 200 square meters in 20 minutes; this would take a technician with a metal detector 1-4 days depending on levels of scrap metal contamination
Documentary photographer George Nickels, who is based in Cambodia, kindly shares his words and pictures.
Cambodia is still one of the most landmine-affected countries in the world. Over 64,000 landmine and other Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) casualties have been recorded in Cambodia since 1979. With over 25,000 amputees Cambodia has the highest ratio of mine amputees per capita in the world.
A recent Baseline Survey of 12 districts revealed that 1,914,818 m2 of land surface is contaminated by landmines and ERW. In addition, at least 26 million explosive submunitions were dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam War, mostly in Eastern and North-Eastern areas bordering the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam. The bombing is estimated to have left between 1.9 million and 5.8 million cluster munitions remnants.
Belgian NGO Apopo, who have been training African giant poached rats in Tanzania, Angolo and Mozambique to detect explosives and tuberculosis, invited me to document their training process as 3 mine detection rat (MDR) handlers drafted from Africa, taught a CMAC demining platoon how to locate landmines and UXO using African giant poached rats. After 6 months training the platoon will be fully operational and demining with the MDR’s on one of the most densely mined swathes of land on earth.
The demining project between CMAC and Apopo will be targeting 6 Northwestern districts close to the infamous “K5 belt”.
The K5 is one of the densest concentrations of mines on the planet and causes a significant proportion of Cambodia’s mine casualties. The K5 runs along the entire 750km length of the Cambodia-Thai border. In partnership with CMAC, land is released (through demining and survey) for casualty reduction, agriculture, resettlement and other infrastructure development (roads, wells, ponds and schools).
The release of land allows poor, rural people access to land which was previously contaminated so that they can now safely grow their rice and other crops to feed their families. In addition Mine Risk Education is delivered in communities aimed at reducing the risk of injury and death from mines and other ERW.