Elephants sniff out poachers, bombs

25 February 2015 - 02:35 By Reuters

Elephants in Limpopo 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.

The project, which is supported by the US Army Research Office, is taking place at Mabula Game Reserve, 47km from Bela Bela.

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 of the buckets.

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

Chishuru was rewarded with a treat: marula, a fruit that elephants love.

Sean Hensman, an operator of Adventures with Elephants, said: "An elephant's nose is amazing. Think about mammoths, which had to find food through the ice."

Stephen Lee, chief scientist of the US Army Research Office, said elephants had a distinct advantage over sniffer dogs. It appears that, true to the legend, elephants do not forget.

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

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 theatre of combat.

"We could bring scents from the field collected by unmanned robotic systems to the elephants for evaluation," said Lee.