Eugénie Baccot

Documentary Photographer

Of Rats and Men

On September 17, 2015, Oldemiro Júlio Margues Baloi, Mozambican Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared his country "Free of all known landmines.” Each landmines identified on some 11,124,446 m² of land was destroyed. Located in the south of Mozambique, the Gaza province has long been one of eastern Africa's most mine-ridden regions. Buried during the conflicts that tore up the nation, the mines had been moved around continuously into the 1990s. Present on the ground since 2008, Apopo has been one of the stakeholders responsible for conducting cleanup operations in the region. In addition to the metal detectors, the company uses a surprising technology: the rat. Apopo runs a research center in Tanzania where rodents are taught by nine-months-old to detect TNT and work as deminers. The animals are then deployed 4,000 km further south, in Mozambique, at the border of Zimbabwe. Between demining sessions and rodent care, deminers and rats lead a quasi-miltiary life, isolated in a desolate and arid region. From this life of intense toil arises a special bond between humans and animals. The pairs work side by side, muzzle and metal detectors clanging, clearing mines inch by inch over the final remaining lands of Mozambique.