Image: Colombian rat, cat
Fernando Vergara  /  AP
The Colombian police force has been experimenting with training rodents to detect explosives in minefields. The process would take advantage of rat's acute sense of smell and low weight, which would allow them to find mines without activating them. The cats are included in the training to help rats become used to possible predators.
updated 7/24/2007 6:49:58 PM ET 2007-07-24T22:49:58

Who says Tom and Jerry can’t be friends?

For the past year, a special Colombian police unit has been locking rats in cages with cats as part of a project to train the rodents to sniff out the more than 100,000 land mines planted mostly by leftist rebels across this conflict-wracked Andean country.

Bringing the rats face to face with an enemy allows them to stay more focused once they are released, veterinarian Luisa Mendez, who’s been working with the animals for two years, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The rodents are taught to freeze in front of mines, but had difficulty staying put for fear of being attacked by predators.

“Here the cats play with the rats instead of attacking them,” Mendez said. “The cats wear shields on their nails so they can’t cause any injuries and as a result the rats feel comfortable playing around them.”

Col. Javier Cifuentes, who oversees the project, said the rats’ success rate in mine detection is 96 percent. Unlike dogs, the rats weigh a lot less and therefore don’t trigger explosions.

Colombia is home to the world’s largest number of land mine victims. Last year, there were 1,108 victims, or about one every eight hours, the government says. Nearly a quarter of the victims die from their injuries.

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