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Niko Mushi hated rats, as did most people in his village near Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro — until he learned the critters had a nose for land mines.

Mushi, 32, has been working with giant African pouched rats for almost seven years. He now enjoys their company — “They’re just like my friend,” he says — but he concedes he was skeptical when the man who conceived the idea for HeroRats first told him they could sniff out live ordnance.

“I thought maybe he was making some jokes,” Mushi said. “I was amazed that rats could do such a thing.”

Before he started working with rats, Mushi had a comfortable job teaching the Kiswahili language at a Lutheran seminary. He was terrified when he first took one of his long-tailed protégés into a Mozambican minefield.

He’d heard stories of accidents involving the mines, mostly leftovers from Mozambique’s civil war, which ended in 1992. He was not emboldened by the skeletons of soldiers and others who’d taken unfortunate steps before him.

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But his rat found 16 land mines that day.

“We are not a good friend to these creatures,” Mushi said of his countrymen, “but after people see this work that we are doing, they change this position.”

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