Bomb-sniffing elephants trained in South Africa

Could elephants be replacing dogs as go-to bomb-sniffer?

By REUTERS
February 24, 2015 11:55
2 minute read.
Elephant (illustrative).

Elephant (illustrative).. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

MABULA - In the South African bush, elephants are being trained in the art of "bio-detection" to see if they can use their exceptional sense of smell to sniff out explosives, landmines and poachers.

Supported by the US Army Research Office, the project looks promising.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


During a recent test run, a 17-year-old male elephant named Chishuru walked past a row of buckets. A swab laced with TNT scent had been stapled to the bottom of one.

Sticking his trunk into each bucket, Chishuru stopped and raised a front leg when he came across the one with the swab. He got the bucket right each time.

And like a sniffer dog, he was rewarded with a treat: marula, a fruit that elephants love.

"An elephant's nose is amazing. Think about mammoths, which had to find food through the ice," said Sean Hensman, operator of Adventures with Elephants, the game ranch 180 km (110 miles) northwest of Johannesburg where the training is being conducted.

The project has a number of roots. Elephants in Angola, which suffered decades of civil war, have been observed avoiding heavily-mined areas, suggesting their trunks were warning them to stay away.



In Hensman's case, he said his father was startled in the 1990s while watching a herd of elephants in Zimbabwe to discover that a female member of the herd had tracked him.

Inspired, his father trained 12 elephants for anti-poaching patrols in Zimbabwe but in 2002 the family lost their three farms to President Robert Mugabe's land seizures and came to South Africa.

US army researchers, who have been involved in the project for five years, say unlike in Hannibal's day, elephants will not be staging a return to the theater of combat.

"We could bring scents from the field collected by unmanned robotic systems to the elephants for evaluation," said Stephen Lee, chief scientist of the US Army Research Office.

And who has the better nose, the dog or the elephant?

"In our work I don't believe we have a firm conclusion. We would like to better quantify this," Lee said.

But the old adage about an elephant never forgetting seems to have some basis in truth.

"Dogs require constant training while the elephants seem to understand and remember the scent without the need for constant training," Lee said.

Related Content

Jerusalem Post News
August 19, 2018
This week in 60 seconds

By JPOST.COM STAFF