16 Angola rats ready to detect landmines

By Ashley Fitzpatrick | Director of Grants & Contracts, Mine Action Africa

All 16 rat reinforcements pass their accreditation test

This past week was an exciting one for the APOPO Mine Action Angola Team with all 16 recently arrived mine detection rats successfully passing their NMAS/IMAS accreditation test.

On 16 and 17 July, APOPO hosted two representatives from Angola’s national demining authority, the Comissão Nacional Intersectorial de Desminagem e Assistência Humanitária (CNIDAH) or in English, the National Intersectorial Commission for Humanitarian Demining and Assistance (CNIDAH), for an independent, external double-blind testing of 16 freshly trained and newly imported mine detection rats (MDR). APOPO expects CNIDAH in Luanda to communicate the final results this week to allow the new MDR to start operations from early August.

The two days of testing were held in a former minefield previously cleared by APOPO with the assistance of now retired MDR. The test area had been specially prepared by CNIDAH the month prior with deactivated landmines planted for the MDR and their handlers to find. The accreditation is “double-blind” because the MDR and the handlers are unaware of the locations of the targets, which are known only to CNIDAH who have them marked on a map. Each of 16 MDR were subjected to a search of 200 square metres, and all 16 of the MDR correctly indicated the targets within a one-meter radius of the target, with not a single one missed. This reflects the high level of mine detection skill of the MDR and their handlers as well as the quality of the breeding and training at APOPO’s Headquarters and training centre in Morogoro, Tanzania.

“From day one of the refresher training in Uíge, this new group of detection rats demonstrated efficiency, and high levels of motivation. During the test, not only the rats, but also us handlers were closely monitored for precision and accuracy.” – APOPO Angola MDR Handler, Arao Domingos

Zacarias Chambe, one of APOPO’s most experienced MDR Supervisors was on the ground in Angola in the weeks leading up to accreditation and during the testing. He said, “I credit APOPO’s training team in Tanzania for preparing a fine group of detection rats, which quickly acclimatised to our premises in Uíge, and demonstrated strong positive behaviour that is easy for handlers to recognise.

“These detection rats are proof that, effective training is a partnership between the animals, the handlers, and the supervisors which is based on trust, respect, and science” says Abdullah Ramadhani, MDR Supervisor Tanzania Training Centre.

Alfredo Adamo, APOPO’s long-serving MDR Supervisor in Angola recalled, “I was excited to meet the 16 new MDRs at the airport in Luanda after having waited anxiously for them since they departed APOPO’s headquarters in early May. They have impressively proved themselves as Angola’s next team of mine detection rats to take on our next tasked minefields in Angola. With accreditation now out of the way, as soon as we have the certificate from CNIDAH in Luanda, APOPO will immediately deploy the MDR to an ongoing task in Uíge Province located in the district of Quitexe. The minefield was a former military position and camp, and once free from all hazards, the area will used for expansion of the nearby village and for agriculture.

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APOPO sincerely thanks its partners Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and CNIDAH, as well as our generous donors, the Cultures of Resistance Network, the Nationale Postcode Loterij, The People’s Postcode Lottery, The Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation, and The Trafigura Foundation, for making APOPO’s life-saving work in Angola possible.