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Posts Tagged ‘detection’

Here’s a new one. Certain rats, with their renowned sense of smell, are being used in the fight against traffickers of endangered species.

The unusual rats had previously been tapped for tasks such as identifying who has tuberculosis and needs treatment. And as I noted a year ago, they have also been successful at sniffing out land mines.

Now, according to Oliver Milman the Guardian, “An elite group of African giant pouched rats will be used at ports, initially in Tanzania, to detect illegal shipments of pangolins – the world’s most trafficked animal, which has been pushed towards extinction due to the trade in its scales and skins …

“The US Fish & Wildlife Service is spending $100,000 on a pilot project that will train rats to detect the illegal items and learn to communicate this to their human handlers. The rats, which can grow up to 3ft long, have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell. …

“The Fish & Wildlife Service said it hoped that the foray into the investigation of wildlife smuggling would be the first stage of a ‘much larger project to mainstream rats as an innovative tool in combating illegal wildlife trade.’ …

“The money for rat training is part of a larger $1.2m package that will provide funding for law enforcement in Cambodia, forest patrols to reduce tiger poaching in Indonesia and sniffer dogs to unearth illegal shipments of saiga antelope horn.”

More here.

Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images
African giant pouched rats like the one seen here are being trained to investigate illegal wildlife trafficking.

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You never know what curiosity is going to turn up on AndrewSullivan.com, which is why I am a paying member of that blog (the posts are mostly free, except for a few jumps). Here Andrew links to a story about bees that are sniffing out deadly landmines.

As Olivia Solon writes at Wired, “A team of Croatian researchers are training honeybees to sniff out unexploded mines that still pepper the Balkans.

Nikola Kezic, a professor in the Department of Agriculture at Zagreb University, has been exploring using bees to find landmines since 2007. Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and other countries from former Yugoslavia still have around 250,000 buried mines which were left there during the wars of the early 90s. Since the end of the war more than 300 people have been killed in Croatia alone by the explosives, including 66 de-miners.

“Tracking down the mines can be extremely costly and dangerous. However, by training bees — which are able to detect odours from 4.5 kilometres away — to associate the smell of TNT with sugar can create an affective way of identifying the locations of mines.

“Kezic leads a multimillion-pound programme sponsored by the EU, called Tiramisu, to detect landmines across the continent. … The movements of the bees are tracked from afar using thermal cameras. Bees have the advantage of being extremely small and so don’t run the risk of setting off the explosives in the same way that trained mammals such as dogs or rats do.” More at Wired.

Andrew also links to posts on a mysterious illness affecting bee populations, an international concern. The cause, still under investigation, may relate to a pesticide.

Photo:: United States Department of Agriculture

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