Cambodia reinforcements take to the sky


This was an exciting weekend for APOPO’s Training and Innovation Center in Tanzania as a group of 20 landmine detection rats boarded their first international flight for Cambodia. The training teams in Morogoro have been working hard to equip the rats with the skills they need to become HeroRATs. It takes 9 months to a year to fully train a rat. After passing their final round of testing from mine detection school the rats were carefully prepared for the long journey from Africa to South-East Asia. All necessary paperwork was completed and the HeroRATs cleared to travel.

These 20 little heroes finished their landmine detection training successfully, passing all internal tests with flying colors. Their final test required them to meet the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), which they did confidently and without error. 

HeroRATs are ‘landmine detectors’ that significantly speed up clearance because they are trained to search for the scent of explosives. They ignore the scrap metal that can slow down manual deminers with metal detectors, who have to stop every time their metal detector makes an alarm. They must then slowly excavate what often turns out to be a piece of old scrap metal, like an old nail.

Before leaving for Cambodia the HeroRATs received all their vaccinations including rabies. The long journey was broken up into shorter segments with regular checks along the way. Yet again the HeroRATs have shown us how resilient they are as a species. They travelled thousands of miles away to save lives and took it all in their stride. 

In Cambodia, their handlers eagerly awaited their arrival in Phnom Penh. They arrived safely on Sunday and after a period of rest and recuperation they finished the last leg of the trip by car to Siem Reap. After getting ample time to rest up, the rats, who are constantly being monitored, will first get introduced to the new handlers as well as the different sights and smells of Cambodia. Once they are comfortable with the team and happy in their environment, they will gradually get introduced to the training field, short sessions initially, building up gently into full training. Following external accreditation by the National Mine Action Authority they will begin work on real minefields as part of an integrated capacity. The HeroRATs will further increase productivity in Cambodia and help return much needed land back to mine-affected communities quickly.

APOPO Cambodia is grateful for the support and generous contributions of all its partners and donors.