These mines are a sad legacy of the 1990s Balkan wars, and many of these deadly weapons are believed to still be buried primarily in about 500 square miles of the country.
Zagreb University Professor Nikola Kezic, who is leading the effort, provided the reasoning behind unleashing honey bees on minefields: “Bees have a perfect sense of smell that can quickly detect the scent of the explosives. They are being trained to identify their food with the scent of TNT… Our basic conclusion is that the bees can clearly detect this target, and we are very satisfied.”
Mixing TNT (trinitrotoluene) into the bees’ food appears to be a successful technique: “The method of training the bees by authenticating the scent of explosives with the food they eat appears to work: bees gather mainly at the pots containing a sugar solution mixed with TNT, and not the ones that have a different smell.”
An estimated 90,000 landmines are believed to have been scattered throughout the country during the conflict apparently with no rhyme nor reason. Since the war ended, about 300 persons have reportedly been killed by exploding mines, even in locations that have been de-mined by bomb squads, which will evidently be the focus of the bee mine-searching operation.
Croatia is scheduled to join the EU as of full member on July 1.
Researchers plan to conduct further controlled testing on the bees ability to search out landmines before they are fully deployed into the field.
In the past, dogs (and rats) have been trained to find landmines but because of their weight they have detonated the weapons.
Prof. Kezic added that “US researchers had in the past experimented with mine-searching bees, but TNT was not part of their tests because its smell evaporated quickly and only small traces remain after time.”
[top image credit: Louise Docker]