23/05/13 11:01 CET
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Croatian officials estimate that since the beginning of the Balkan Wars in 1991, 2,500 people have been killed by landmines.
During the four-year conflict, 90,000 landmines were randomly planted all over the country.
Removing mines is slow and expensive and it is possible to miss some during the process.
Zagreb University has been working on a technique to find unexploded landmines using bees. The honey-making winged insects are trained to find TNT, or trinitrotoluene, a powerful explosive mix.
“The experiment is to condition our bees on the smell of TNT. We put the reward In the centre of this scent. We use a sugar solution as a reward to condition the bees that they can find food just in the middle of the TNT scent,” explained Zagreb University professor Nikola Kezic.
A hive of bees sits at one end, with several feeding points set up around a tent. However, only a few of the feeding points actually contain food, and the soil immediately around them contains explosives.
The idea is that the bees’ keen sense of smell soon associates the smell of explosives with the scent of food.
There would be definite advantages to using bees for detecting landmines, according to Kezic.
“At the moment, they are using standard procedure (for de-mining), but we would like to introduce also bees to check the (mine) field because bees can cover the entire field at once,” said Kezic.
So far, the technique has proved successful, but the problem is in training a colony of thousands of bees. Developers hope to master this, eventually providing a cheap and easily available resource for de-mining teams all over the Balkans.