Israeli Mine-Detecting Pigs
Tim's grainy photo of an Israeli soldier working with his demining pig led me to track down more about this story. Perhaps the best overview comes in an article (here) by Jennette Townsend in the Journal of Research, Development and Technology in Mine Action. Townsend's 2003 report charts the work of animal trainer Giva Zin, who began his career in the Israeli army training dogs to detect mines and roadside bombs. As Zin notes, "While dogs can detect landmines on the surface of the ground, they have difficulty detecting mines buried deep in the ground," making the use of pigs more logical. Zin has trained his pigs to find the mine and then sit down, although some of the time the pigs have detonated the mines (a training version, not a high explosive, thankfully) with their snouts. Clearly, though, there may be potential in using pigs in mine detection, not in Israel, really, but in other areas of the world.
While the main reason that Giva Zin's research won't likely be applied in Israel is that suicide bombing is more of an issue than mines, the fact that pigs are not very popular in Israel. As Zin notes, "Jews don't like pigs. Even Jews who are not religious have a strong aversion to pigs." He has apparently been called stupid for working with pigs, which as a food item are treif -- non-kosher. Because there no religious prohibition against looking at pigs or touching them, Zin hopes that Israeli attitudes about this use of pigs will change. As he concludes, "I believe that even God likes my idea because I am using the pig for a good reason. Maybe in the future, after pigs have been used successfully in other regions, or after research confirms that pigs can be used for demining, Israelis will accept them for use on their own land."
The photo shows Giva Zin training a pig at Kibbutz Lahav in Israel.