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Maputo - A Belgian de-mining organisation has managed to clear more than 130 000 square kilometres of landmine-infested areas in the Mozambican southern province of Gaza with the help of giant pouched rats.
Andrew Sully, Mozambique programme manager of the Apopo demining company, said on Wednesday that this was an increase from last year's 75 000 square kilometres cleared in the same province.
He added that the organisation's 28 rats were gaining popularity in helping de-mine the country, regarded by the Canadian-based International Monitor as one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world.
"The advantage of rats is that they can cover ground quickly, and so can locate mines quicker than just through straight forward manual demining, though once a mine is located, a manual deminer is still required to expose and identify it," said Sully.
The intelligent rodents are too light to detonate the mines they find by sniffing, so they are not disposable.
This comes a few weeks after the Mozambican national demining agency (IND) said it had successfully applied for an extension of the country's landmine free deadline from 2009 to 2014 - after new areas were discovered to contain landmines.
Sully said the popularity of Apopo's rats was recorded in the number of people adopting the rats.
"We have had a growing amount of people 'adopting' rats - really just supporting, no one takes one home - since the program's inception.
"However, there has been a significant increase over the holiday season with people adopting a rat as a gift for friends, family and co-workers," he said.
The most recent largest donation given to the organisation through adoption of a rat was $1 600 (R16 000), Sully said. - Sapa