Meet the ‘hero rats’ sniffing out landmines in Cambodia

Lynn Houghton encounters the remarkable rodents that use their sense of smell to identify explosives

Friday 14 February 2020 10:24 GMT
One of Apopo's 'hero rats' in northern Cambodia
One of Apopo's 'hero rats' in northern Cambodia (Explore)

A rotary fan is clipped to my small table.

This ancient bit of equipment has no cage to prevent its blade hitting a passing limb, but its soft breeze is enough to induce slumber. I’m in Sambor Prei Kuk, northern Cambodia, staying in a traditional stilt house converted to a homestay. Three generations live here, all under one roof. Even so, they share their space with visiting tourists; the income supplementing a farming family’s meagre earnings.

Every movement and footstep upstairs, where guests sleep, seems amplified. The rooms are separated by paper-thin walls and light shines from the Cambodian family’s “living room” up through the slats in the floor. Festooned with hammocks and shared with dogs, chickens and children from next door, this space has a primitive kitchen and a pathway that leads to two Asian-style bathrooms with western toilets. The only other quarters are a room where the family sleep.

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