Clearing Landmines with Bees, Rats and Lasers
The wounds and scars of war last much longer than the battles themselves, in many ways. One of the greatest scourges of modern life is a landmine. It is estimated that there are 80 million landmines and other unexploded ordnance scattered around, left behind when strife ends, and wars become part of history.
These devices threaten humanity and animals of all kinds, and the brutal injuries are often worse than death. Those most affected by these ‘time bombs’ are innocent, and often had nothing to do with the fighting, yet their lives are destroyed.
Available figures are staggeringly high. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, as many as 15,000 to 20,000 people experience life-threatening injuries or die as a result of landmines every year.
It seems wrong that these can be left behind, and nobody had to clean them up. It is a sad fact that finding these abandoned explosives and eliminating them is not only time consuming, but dangerous. Time is not on the side of cleaning crews, as these items grow more unstable with passing time.
Traditionally, humans used probes to walk and prod the earth, looking for landmines. Now there are three new ways to help locate and disarm these deadly traps to eventually clean up the countries impacted most.
We blogged about this subject recently. This 1:01-minute video by David Smothers shows how sniffer-bees are trained:
The country of Croatia has about 90,000 landmines within minefields that are estimated to be around 264 square kilometers in size. Croatians, who love and respect bees for many reasons, have taken the unique approach of training bees to associate food with the smell of explosives.
The training of bees was undertaken by scientists, who set up the test with a beehive at one end. Containers are scattered around, and only some of the boxes contain sugar-solution. They are enhanced with the scent of explosives and positioned above ground. Gradually, the bees associate the scent of explosives with food.
As bees are released at a minefield, they make a bee line straight to the place they smell explosives, thinking they will find the sugar solution there.
Scientists that have worked on the project say that bees are faster than sniffer dogs and that using bees is safer.
This 1:29-minute video by Irish RTE News shows the famous rat, Magawa, hard at work finding landmines in Cambodia:
Another way to clear landmines is by using rats. The African giant pouched rat is successfully being trained by APOPO, a Tanzanian non-profit organization, to identify landmines and explosives. One of their sniffer-rats, Magawa, became a recent celebrity when it was awarded a gold medal by PDSA, a British Animal Charity, for devotion to duty and gallantry. This honor is awarded to non-military animals, and has been received by dogs, horses, cats and pigeons, but never before by a rodent.
Magawa has been working in Cambodia and has cleared almost 14 hectares (34.5 acres) of minefields and has found 39 landmines and 28 pieces of unexploded ordnance.
According to Christophe Cox, CEO of APOPO, finding landmines is a time consuming and tedious job, but rats can scan an area of 200 square meters in thirty minutes. In comparison, it would take a man with a probe four days.
The third new way to remove these landmines comes from The US Air Force and Parsons Corporation located in Virginia building a vehicle that can detonate landmines from just over 984 feet away.
Parsons Corporation won a $40 million contract to build a RADBO. A mine-resistant Cougar infantry vehicle will be equipped with a three-kilowatt ZEUS Laser System with a manipulating arm to clear debris and obstacles away. The laser is supposed to have the power to detonate cluster bombs, general-purpose bombs, thick-cased artillery rounds, landmines and other small submunitions. The vehicle is being built in Huntsville, Alabama and should be ready for deployment in 2023.
We can only hope that many aged and long forgotten landmines will be removed or destroyed in the next few years thanks to the new laser vehicle and the selfless and courageous bees and rats and their patient trainers.
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