Con ratas gigantes y perros desactivan minas antipersonales en Africa

VILANCULOS, Mozambique (Reuters) — A giant African rat has become man’s second best friend as it joins forces with the dog to sniff out landmines in Mozambique.
The Belgian de-mining research group APOPO has eight of the rodents working alongside dogs and metal detectors on a minefield in Mozambique’s coastal town of Vilanculos, some 650 km (405 miles) northeast of the capital Maputo.
The Gambian giant pouched rats are helping to clear a stretch of fertile land that has lain fallow since a savage civil war ended in 1992.
Landmines are an insidious legacy of that conflict that maim and kill Mozambicans to this day, including rural children who were born long after the guns were silenced.
«The biggest problem in landmines is that from the moment there is a mine somewhere, a very large area becomes suspect and has to be cleared before people can go back to farming there,» said Frank Weetjens, APOPO’s representative in Mozambique.
Enter the Gambian giant pouched rat, the latest weapon in the war to remove more than 100 million landmines scattered in some 60 countries that kill or injure an estimated 50 people daily.
Leaders of 143 countries met in Nairobi in November to plan the next steps in their global campaign.
«We started off in Africa because a very large chunk of mine-affected countries in the world are actually in Africa. And of these countries a lot have really dilapidated infrastructure because of that,» said Weetjens.
«For us there is a sense of priority for Africa. That is also why we looked for an animal that would thrive well in Africa,» he told Reuters.
And thrive it does. The rat’s home range is found throughout much of Africa.
It gets its name from the large pouches on the inside of its cheeks, which it uses for carrying food. Easily tamed, the animal is a favorite in the pet trade.
The methods currently used in mine clearance have drawbacks.
Metal detectors are very slow and tedious because they pick up every single metal fragment in a suspected minefield.
«The de-miner has to approach every little piece of garbage with the same caution that he has to approach a landmine, so you can imagine where that leaves you,» Weetjens said.
Of the 26,000 pieces of metal detected so far on the minefield in Vilanculos, only 74 turned out to be landmines.
After World War Two dogs emerged as the most reliable detection method, able to sniff out even those mines buried 15 to 20 cm below ground, which a metal detector will miss.
The pouched rat combines a dog’s nose without its bulk. Growing to a maximum weight of 2.8 kg (six pounds) it can scamper around a minefield without the risk of detonating anti-personnel gadgets that can be triggered by its heavier canine colleague.
The rats are attached to little red harnesses and guided down the length of a 100 square meter (1,076 square feet) field by their trainer.
When the rat hits on a suspected mine, it stops, sniffs and starts to scratch.
To most rural Africans, rats are either a pest or added protein for an evening meal.
«It took a while for me to accept the idea at first and even among the villagers near the minefield there is some skepticism about what the rats can do,» said Mozambican Samo Manhica, who works as an observer on the APOPO programme in Vilanculos.
But in a country where the problem of landmines has been an obstacle to attempts to re-build an economy ravaged by 16 years of civil war, every single battle plan counts for something.
«The rat is another tool. It’s new for us but it is going to be a very important tool in de-mining,» said Jacky D’Almeida, director of the Accelerated De-mining Programme (ADP), an organization working with APOPO in Vilanculos, which relies mainly on metal detectors and dogs.
«Every tool has its own limitations. Machines, dogs, men have limitations and so do the rats. What is important is that we have a package that can speed up the process and we can reduce costs and increase productivity.»
And for Mozambique, rated one of the world’s poorest countries, cost-saving is important. D’Almeida, who fought for the ruling Frelimo movement during the war, now works side by side with Alex Muianga, who took up arms for the rebel group Renamo, to clear mine infested land.
«Before, I fought against him. Now the worst war in Mozambique is the economic war,» said D’Almeida, with a friendly slap on Muianga’s shoulder.
«Me and Alex can only be in peace totally when we have no mines in this country.»

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *