Magawa is part of a cohort of rats bred by APOPO for this purpose. He was born in Tanzania in 2014, socialized and moved to Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2016 to begin his bomb-sniffing career. APOPO uses positive reinforcement methods that give the rats food rewards for accomplishing tasks such as finding a target or walking across a surface. Then they’re trained in scent discrimination: choosing explosive smells over something else to get a food reward. Though they have terrible eyesight, the rats are ideal for such work, with their extraordinary sense of smell and their size — they are too light to trigger the mines. When they detect a mine, they lightly scratch atop it, signaling to their handler what they’ve found. Their reward: a banana. [T]he rats hone their skills in a training field and are only cleared to begin work once they have perfect accuracy over an 8,600-square-foot area with various stages of complexity.
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