In 1996, when England was gripped by Mad Cow disease panic, a jocular letter published in The Cambodia Daily proposed: "The English have 11 million mad cows and Cambodia has roughly the same number of equally mad land mines. Surely the solution to Cambodia's mine problem is here before our very eyes in black and white." The absurdity of the solution fired the imagination of internet users, who began proposing ways to transport the cows halfway across the world. But a look at the number of animals who really are killed by wandering onto abandoned landmines suggests that the solution might not be so absurd after all.
According to a report by Demilitarization For Democracy, more than 50 percent of the livestock in Afghanistan have been killed by land mines and bombs. A survey of 949 villages shows that animal death due to land- mines resulted in a loss worth $60 million dollars. Other surveys from countries such as Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe report the loss of thousands of cows, pigs, dogs and horses who strayed onto a deadly mine.
It is generally considered difficult to use animals to clear landmines (dogs, for instance, are good trackers but risk losing interest and wandering off to their deaths) but an experiment in Mozambique is proving otherwise. Researchers from the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania trained 36 rats in landmine clearance, and used them to clear thousands of landmines in southern Mozambique. According to researchers, rats make ideal trackers because they are easy to transport, resistant to disease, and only ask for food in return. "Two rats can clear a 200-square-meter area in one hour," they claimed. "It takes one [human] de-miner two weeks to do the same area."
Image: TaylorMiles via Creative Commons
FALLOUT is a series of blog posts that explore the side-effects of war.