Rabbits have an excellent sense of smell and specially trained rabbits are being used to detect victims that become buried under rubble from collapsed buildings, mine shafts or underground tunnels.
But it's not just their sense of smell that is being utilized to help in rescue situations. Rabbits also have amazing hearing and vision abilities too.
On Monday morning, (30.09.13), a column collapsed bringing four storeys of an old convent crashing down and burying 50-year-old Maria Isabel Fernandez under the rubble.
For 24 hours, rescue teams battled to reach her.
When their radars and even specially trained sniffer rabbits found no signs of life, they moved to securing the rest of the ruins and recovering her body.
Officials say that on average two buildings completely collapse in Havana every month.
For the full BBC report Sniffer Rabbits in Cuba - click here.
However, while the government are dealing with the neglect, lack of funds and a series of devastating hurricanes, rescue workers have been training special sniffer rabbits to help find other victims of these common disasters.
because rabbits are much cheaper to train.
Rabbits have natural abilities and can be fitted with a harness on a long lead.
But what qualities does a sniffer rabbit have? And why are they being used so successfully?
The answers lie in their other senses too...
The synonymous twitch of a rabbit’s nose, developed for it's own survival, is now being utilized as an important factor in identifying possible victims buried under collapsed building rubble or under-ground disaster sights.
Rabbits constantly sniff the air rather than just breathing it in. They have over fifty million receptor cells in their nose, compared to only six million in humans.
Rabbits, like dogs, have two types of scent detection cells in their nose. Olfactory sensory cells detect ordinary airborne odours, while a specialised group, the Jacobson Organ, pick up heavy moisture-borne molecules and pheromones. Moist air carries more scent, important when searching under buildings or underground.
When rabbits breathe in, their split top lip parts and moistens the air as it passes movable folds inside the nose. This enhances any scent and helps the rabbit discover more about the smell ahead.
The rabbit’s appearance clearly indicates its keen sense of hearing. They have their own built-in radar system.
With the rabbit being a prey animal, their ears play an important role in the detection of movement. Not only can they can pick up sounds from as far as two miles away, but they can interpret these sounds and distinguish them.
You can often see wild rabbits at the side of a busy road, not even flinching when a huge rumbling lorry rolls past, but the sound of a cracking twig in the hedge behind, and they're off!
Rabbits can hear much higher pitched sounds which include mechanical or electrical sounds we can’t hear. Acoustics help to overcome the any reduced visual abilities by allowing the rabbit to navigate without difficulty.
Sound waves bounce off objects, allowing the rabbit to recognize the arrangement of his surroundings. When alert, the ears move forward and backward, independently of each other so the slightest sound can be detected from very far away.
But it's not just a rabbit's sense of smell and hearing that are being used to rescue people. They have quite extraordinary sight abilities too.
While they are not excellent at focusing on anything too close up, a rabbit’s field of vision is immense. They have a nearly 360° panoramic vision, allowing them to detect motion from all directions. They can see everything behind them and only have a small blind-spot in front of their nose.
Their large eyes are located on the sides and upper part of the head, enabling each eye to see more than one half of a circle, so together, they can see in every direction.
But it's at night and in the dark when a rabbit's eyesight is particularly exceptional and very accurate. Perhaps it's all the carrots they eat!
However, one thing is worth noting -
It might not be too long before 'rabbit' moves from our mind as a table meal and takes its rightful place by our feet, as a trusty and useful pet.
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