Harry Potter to look for landmines in Cambodia

Players of People's Postcode Lottery support HeroRATs for mine detection.

Just over a year ago ten baby rats were chosen from the APOPO breeding center in Tanzania to be trained as landmine detection rats. With the support of the Players of the People’s Postcode Lottery (UK), these HeroRATs have successfully completed their training and last week on April 27th, arrived in their new home in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Harry Potter (named after a fictional young wizard in a series of immensely popular books created by British author J.K. Rowling) progressed steadily through his training and consistently sped ahead of his peers to complete the various stages of his training. Over the last year his Tanzanian rat trainers Neema and Abouswai (below) have patiently been helping him (pictured on the right) get ready for his life-saving mission in Cambodia.

These reinforcements arrive at an opportune time, following the expansion of the APOPO Cambodia landmine clearance program into the province of Preah Vihear last year. Harry Potter and his friends will be providing much needed capacity to operations in Cambodia, joining the other mine detection rats that have been there since 2015 working in partnership with Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC). Some of these veteran rats are nearing retirement age so they will work together with the new recruits during a long transition period.

Funding for demining remains a challenge. That’s why support from the players is all the more important. Since 2014, players of People’s Postcode Lottery (UK) have raised £2,875,000 in unrestricted funds for APOPO. They supported the training of these ten new recruits but also directly supported the Cambodia program, with £133,000 in 2018 alone.

Even when conflict ends, landmines left behind cast a dark shadow over the lives of those around them. Landmines are still inflicting pain and damage to a new generation in Cambodia. To date, the APOPO program has cleared and released 16,177,288 m2 of land to local communities in Cambodia. This is intense, difficult, dangerous work and demands accuracy and time. This is where the HeroRATs come in. Integrating the HeroRATs into conventional methods has significantly increased the speed of landmine detection, which boosts the daily square meter coverage and clearance, and allowing people to get back on their land as quickly as possible.

One rat can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes. This could take a manual deminer with a metal detector up to 4 days, depending on how much scrap metal is lying around.

Once the rat indicates, the manual deminer investigates the indication, safely excavate the landmine so that we can then prepare it for disposal. It is very intense. You have to concentrate hard and the heat can be extreme, especially when wearing the protective gear. However, APOPO teaches us to follow strict safety procedures and we have to take regular breaks from the heat and to regain our concentration.” - Thoeun Theap, Operations Manager, APOPO MA Cambodia

Thoeun and HeroRAT.  Photo © Zoe Osborne



APOPO Cambodia is grateful for the support and generous contributions of all its partners and donors.