Stephen Kahn

Useful rats and mice

In Good news on February 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Living in exurbia and having a large garden, I tend to regard rats and mice as distasteful nuisances. For example, on several occasions they have damaged my vehicle by chewing wiring. Frequently, my wife and I put out traps to catch and destroy these little pests.

However, these rodents can be useful companions and helpers to human beings.

For example, countries with histories of war and civil conflict such as the African nation of Mozambique often find themselves plagued with thousands of mines still lurking in their countryside. Innocent people such as farmers and children end up dead or horribly maimed when they accidentally trigger one of these destructive devices. Locating and deactivating mines is difficult, dangerous, slow, and expensive work. However, researchers in Mozambique have discovered that large native rats (known as pouch rats) can be trained to locate the presence of mines more effectively than sniffer dogs or human searchers. The rats are light enough to search a mine-infested area without triggering explosions.

The rats’ acute sense of smell is also helpful in medical diagnosis. They are able to detect the presence of tuberculosis in humans more effectively than any other method of diagnosis.

Other researchers have discovered how to train mice to be bomb sniffers. They are less demanding (of human attention and support) than bomb sniffer dogs. When I travel the ferry from and to my home on Whidbey Island, Washington, one of these days a state patrol officer may carry a sniffing mouse past my car instead of leading a dog.

More information at


  1. My wife gave my mother-in-law a mine sniffing rat for Christmas this year! (This is true. Many people don’t believe what I say) Actually she gave her mom the adoption of said rat, and mom gets updates about how the rat is doing. It may have been through one of the sites you listed. Mom really appreciated the rat, too. She’s into that sort of thing.

  2. Is this serendipity or what! I am so glad to see you here, Pete.

    Next, we send tayberries to Mazambique!

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