Sniffer dogs around the world may just have met their match. Elephants in South Africa are being trained to detect landmines and explosives as well as poachers, while they are showing promising results, aided by their highly developed sense of smell.
The project was the brainchild of Sean Hensman, who noticed how
an elephant was able to track him when he was growing up in
Zimbabwe. Also experts were able to note how the animals were
able to avoid landmines, which suggested they are able to sense
During a demonstration, a 17-year-old male elephant called
Chishuru walked past a row of buckets, one of which had a swab of
TNT under it. The elephant would then put his truck into each of
the buckets and then would raise his right leg when he thought he
had found the explosives – he was right every time.
“An elephant’s nose is amazing. Think about mammoths, which
had to find food through the ice,” Reuters reported Hensman
as saying. Hensman runs an elephant ranch 180 kilometers from
Johannesburg, where the animals are being trained.
The elephants’ sense of smell is so good that they are able to
smell explosives 100 meters away – around 28,000 times better
than that of a human.
Like any good teacher, Hensman was quick to reward his pupil,
giving Chishuru, who weighs 2.5 tons, his favored treat – a
marula fruit, which is rich in vitamin C.
The US Army has also been helping out. A research team has been
involved in the project for the last five years. However, they
have given assurances that unlike during Hannibal’s time, these
elephants will not see any combat.
Training elephants runs in the family. Sean’s father, Rory
Hensman, started to train the animals during the 1990s as a way
to stop poaching in the Zambezi valley. Its remoteness meant that
it was difficult for vehicles to get there.
The elephants have also proved to be good crime fighters. In
1992, Rory successfully managed to use an elephant to track and
apprehend a robber who had broken into a neighbor’s farm house.
The beast was able to cover a distance of five kilometers
crossing difficult terrain before he eventually caught up with
the burglar, according to the family’s website, Adventure with
There is even hope that elephants may be able to provide an early
warning sign for those suffering from cancer. The website states
they hope to train elephants to smell out the cancer in a
person’s sweat. The person would wear socks and the elephant
would smell different socks to identify whether cancer is