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Bees aid landmine detection in Croatia

(Vatican Radio) Croatian researchers have trained bees to detect tens of thousands of land mines that are still buried throughout the country following the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Those involved in the project hope to help reduce the number of victims.

Clearing the 90,000 landmines buried across Croatia during the Balkan wars remains difficult and dangerous. At least 2,500 people have been killed and many more injured by them in the former Yugoslav republic since 1991.

Yet, there are no clear maps or written records to help figure out where the landmines are. Now, bees can help search teams find the explosive devices, claims Professor Nikola Kezic of Zagreb University who in charge of the European Union-sponsored mine detection project - dubbed Operation Tiramisu.

Honeybees, who are perfect in sensing smell, were trained to identify the scent of explosives by rewarding them with sugar, he said. "We put a sugar solution as a reward, to condition the bees that they can find food, in the middle of the smell of TNT. We would also like to introduce bees to check the [mine] field, because bees can cover all the fields," the professor explained enthusiastically.

Rats and dogs were already used to detect landmines, but unlike honeybees, their weigh can set off the explosive devices.

Dijana Plestina, who leads the Government Office for Demining, hopes the project will help to overcome the landmine legacy of the wars for Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia, in the 1990s. "We have some 750 square kilometers of suspected mines. Though there are not necessarily land mines everywhere, we can not use those [lands] before we check it," she stressed.

There is a sense of urgency as Croatia joins the European Union on July 1. It likes to promote its aquamarine Adriatic sea, deep blue mountain lakes and lush green forests.

Croatia doe not want to be known as the nation that added numerous un-cleared minefields to the EU's territory. Listen to this report by Stefan Bos RealAudioMP3