At a Colombian National Police base in the outskirts of Bogota, the nation’s capital, a new recruit is being trained.
This new recruit is unlike any other. It stands on four legs, has white hair all over its body and weighs slightly less than a pound. Its name is Rattus Norvegicus — but it’s more commonly known as a lab rat.
During a recent training session, trainers set the white rat on a patch of grass where they had hidden an explosive device underground. It took the rat less than a minute to find it. The rodent was showered with praise. Its trainers also gave it its favorite reward, a treat.
Though safer than a decade ago, Colombia is a country where landmines and car bombs are still a threat. Earlier this month, six people were killed by a car bomb targeting a police station in the town of Villa Rica in the southern province of El Cauca. The day before the February 2 bombing, nine people were killed and 70 were injured by another explosion in the neighboring province of Narino…
In the past, Colombian police used bomb-sniffing dogs; but the dogs’ weight would often trigger the explosives. That’s not a problem for lab rats that weigh slightly less than a pound.
And according to the trainers, their sense of smell is just as good as a dog’s…
Ramirez says that the only disadvantage he can think of about using rats is their short life span.
“These animals live only three to four years, which is a relatively short period of time from a human perspective. On the other hand, they’re very prolific. They reproduce themselves exponentially in a very short time,” Ramirez said.
So far, the rats have been trained to detect seven different kinds of explosives including ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, gunpowder and TNT…
Mendez also says the rats are much more cost-effective than their canine counterparts. “With the money it takes to feed a dog per day, you can feed seven rats for seven days,” Mendez said.
The money-savings alone is enough roll this project along. Nothing makes a bean-counter bureaucrat happier than saving a whole lot of 9’s. Having obedient rats instead of lovable dogs would be a plus, as well.