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Training bees to sniff out landmines in the Balkans

Honey Bee - Apis melliferaIt sounds almost like an April Fool story, but it’s real.  Honey bees are making a valuable contribution to clearing landmines left over from the Balkans wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia.  As many as 1.5 million mines are believed to have been sown by all sides in the conflict.  Minefields in Croatia are thought still to contain approximately 90,000 mines, and thousands of people have been killed and injured by them since the fighting ceased.

The bees are trained to associate the smell of TNT and other explosives with food.  Of several feeding sites set up, the ones with explosives impregnating the surrounding earth contain sugar solution, so the bees rapidly learn to associate the smell of explosives with food.  The bees are described as “faster and safer than sniffer dogs” and have the advantage that as well as performing their mine-clearing services, they also make delicious honey.  The bees are also light enough to avoid detonating the mines they locate.

A UK firm, Inscentinel, is reported to be training bees to sniff out explosives concealed in freight destined for aircraft cargo holds, while bees in the US are being trained to sniff out methamphetamine and cocaine.  One report suggests that they might even be trained to detect some forms of cancer in humans.  In addition to pollinating many of our crops and giving us honey, bees are now helping to make the world a little safer, too.

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