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APOPO - meeting the rats who change lives

APOPO is based a few minutes out of the city center and is a must-see if you are interested in the delicate history of Cambodia, as well as curious about how they are trying to solve many problems that followed the Vietnam war and Khmer Rouge.

They are a Belgian NGO that has developed an ingenious system deploying African giant pouched rats that can detect tuberculosis or landmines with their exceptional sense of smell. They’re known as HeroRATs, and they are nothing short of exceptional.

In 2018 alone 12 minefields of 1,1 million sqm (160 football fields), filled with 143 landmines and 142 unexploded objects were found, neutralized and cleared.

Currently, there are only 29 rats at APOPO, but 10 more will be arriving later in February, and a further 20 in March, so there will be a total of 59 HeroRATs covering the hundreds of landmine fields across Cambodia, clearing the land and allowing the local villagers to reclaim the earth for cultivation.

During the Vietnam war, Cambodia was riddled with landmines and bombs, thousands of them remaining in the fields threatening the lives of the Khmer. Not only has Cambodia suffered from the Vietnam war, but also had to face treacherous years under the Khmer Rouge.

It is suspected that there are 26 million undetected explosives still pervading the lands.

APOPO works with the government and uses the rats as well as people with metal detectors to cover extensive grounds, boxing off areas for the rats to inspect. What a human can do in 8 hours, the rat can cover in 2 hours.

One of the many benefits of working with rats is their easy-going temperament and docile personalities, as they are willing to work with anyone, not just one trainee, making day-to-day work much easier than, say, using dogs.

The tour is very informative and entertaining as you get to see a live demonstration with one of the rats, and it is quite an interesting experience to be a part of.

There is a large demonstration area, as well as a presentation room, where you get to view a short documentary about APOPO, and a display cabinet inside showcasing many of the different neutralised unexploded objects and bombs.

The admission fee is $5 and the tour lasts just over an hour, not including the free time you have to look through the display room.

You can support APOPO through donations, buying some of their branded products in the shop or ‘adopting’ a HeroRAT for a year.

In 2019 they estimate to double their numbers and cover for more land than ever before. Apopo has programs in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia.

There is nothing quite like it and it is a tour not to be missed while visiting Siem Reap.

Location of Apopo.

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