Africa’s giant rats have been trained to sniff out landmines and detect tuberculosis in humans, says Kirsty Brebner, a member of Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Brebner, who disclosed this in Nairobi on Friday, said the rats that would also be trained to help prevent, and detect illegal wildlife trade.

According to Brebner, the project’s objective is to prove by late 2017, that the rats’ powerful sense of smell could distinguish the illegally traded (poached) items.

The rats would be trained in such a way that they would detect even items stashed in coffee or other scent-masking substances in containers before they are loaded onto ships for export.

“I firmly believe that we are going to be able to prove that they can. They are clearly trainable, they have a strong sense of smell, the eventual aim is to train rats to find ivory and rhino horns too.

The giant rats, Brebner said, were chosen for the U.S. funded project because they live as long as eight years.

Brebner disclosed that the Endangered Wildlife Trust had long used dogs to trace wildlife trophies, but rats could scramble into small, dark places and could climb up containers.

“The rats were tested and trained by APOPO, a Tanzanian-based group that pioneered the use of the African Giant Pouched Rat to find landmines.”

James Pursey, head of APOPO, said the rats would first be trained to sniff out a substance in return for a reward.

“We will then be developing the optimal method for how to actually test the shipping containers,” he said.

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