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From the Washington Post (emphasis added):

The Belgian organization APOPO has been training its “heroRATS” to find land mines for 20 years, and it says the animals have helped clear more than 100,000 mines from former war zones.

From The Guardian:

In the past 20 years, Apopo’s [heroRATS] have found more than 100,000 landmines and unexploded ordinances, clearing 22m square metres of land in countries including Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia.

The claim is also found here and here.

  1. Have heroRATS trained by APOPO identified more than 100,000 mines from former war zones in 20 years?

  2. Have heroRATS cleared 22 million square meters of land in 20 years?

I haven't found an official statement by APOPO about this. Even if there were, I hope there will be more than just an official statement by APOPO in your answer. I would appreciate background information that supports the conclusion in the official statement by APOPO.

  • Please re-tag, etc. I don't really like the "war" tag on here. Thanks! – Barry Harrison May 11 at 7:24
  • @Fizz Thanks for the link! I don't think either number is cited, but I may have missed something. Of course, you can use the references from Wikipedia in your answer. – Barry Harrison May 11 at 18:25
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    It is perhaps worth noticing that these numbers are not particularly high and just a drop in the ocean when compared to the global impact by land mines. It is estimated that currently, more than 100 million land mines render about 25.000km² of land useless and about 2 million new land mines are laid every year. If the rats have found 100.000 land mines and cleared about 22km² of land in 20 years, it is barely noticeable in a global perspective. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo May 14 at 16:43
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo Yes good point. Regardless, I am interested in whether heroRATS specifically are this effective at the task of clearing landmines. 100,000 does sound like a large number (even though, as you said, "It is estimated that currently, more than 100 million land mines render about 25.000km² of land useless.") Thanks for the thoughts! – Barry Harrison May 15 at 4:35
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I haven't been able to find independent verification, but APOPO does have relevant information on their website:

  • 19,650 Landmines destroyed
  • 88,251 UXO destroyed
  • 23,623,426 [m2] Safe land returned to communities

The Washington Post article was written two years ago in 2017, while APOPO was founded in 1997. This information is more current than that.

The claim's "100,000+ mines" refers to both landmines and unexploded ordnances, which together currently total 107,901. These numbers also seem to be for the entire company, not just the rats. There are several steps that need to occur before the rats are even put to work, including clearing the area of growth and creating safe lanes for people to walk on, where explosives have to be detected by people with metal detectors. The rats only help find the explosives and are not responsible for detonating them. The explosives are safely detonated by people when no person or rat is close enough to get hurt.

According to a peer-reviewed paper written in part by people at APOPO, the rats don't work the entire day, so people end up doing some of the demining:

The main disadvantage of rats is that they do not work well when it is extremely hot and sunny. Therefore, in warm weather—which is characteristic of Gaza Province—demining with the rats is limited to the cool of morning. Later in the day, handlers shift to other activities, such as clearing brush and manually demining. Although pouched rats play an invaluable role in APOPO's mine clearance activities, they are by no means the sole weapon in the arsenal.


Another relevant peer-reviewed paper (with essentially the same authors) about the efficacy of these rats was was published:

The rats searched a total of 93,400 m2 in 2009, and this land was subsequently made available for the use of local people. The rats located a total of 41 mines. Humans with metal detectors found no mines beyond those located by the rats.

(Also "54 other explosive devices" were found during the period studied in the paper.)

  • Thanks for answering! Do you mean the claim is false/misleading? Have you found background information that supports the conclusion in the official statement by APOPO? – Barry Harrison May 11 at 21:49
  • @BarryHarrison The 41 mines (plus 54 other explosives) were only for 2009 whereas the claim is talking about 1997-2017. According to the information I have (which is for the entire 22 year history, but it's probably close enough), WaPo is technically correct, but the Guardian misses out on the point that the rats are not solely responsible for clearing the mines. – Laurel May 11 at 21:56
  • 41 mines in 22 years is 902 mines. Clearly, they had to ramp up mine clearing after 2009 to reach 100,000 mines??? And yes, I see that WaPo is technically correct, while The Guardian isn't. I still feel I was tricked into believing the rats were super good at what they do. Maybe you could do a comparison with conventional mine clearing? To show that the rats are/aren't as effective as the news make them out to be. – Barry Harrison May 11 at 21:59
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    Wikipedia also has some explanations how demining with rats works. There is still substantial human involvement in all phases; it's not like the rats blow themselves up on the mines removing them... they basically just replace other detectors to some extent; one still needs to first clear pathways for the rat handlers etc. Calculating just the area "cleared" by rats from that is probably really hard and somewhat pointless. – Fizz May 12 at 2:10
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    @BarryHarrison - Note that the '41 mines in 2009' applies only to the region in Mozambique covered by the peer-reviewed paper, not by all the APOPO rats in that year. The linked paper provides good context for evaluating the relative efficacy of the rats. – antlersoft May 13 at 15:09

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