The exceptional sense of smell characterizing elephants is the reason some pachyderms in South Africa have been trained to sniff out explosives, landmines, and poachers.
The idea of using elephant’s keen sense of smell came after noticing how herds in South Africa avoided areas that were heavily-mined, so researchers suspected elephants had an exceptional ability to smell bombs from as far as 100 meters way.
In a test to check the assumption, a 17-year old elephant successfully identified a swab laced with TNT, placed under a row of buckets. The elephant used his trunk and stuck it into the correct bucket in every trial.
The original project behind the test was the idea of Sean Hensman who decided to look into this idea after an elephant tracked him down when he lived in Zimbabwe.
Researchers are now examining the bigger picture to understand how the results could benefit society at large. “[We] hope to train elephants to smell out the cancer in a person’s sweat. The person would wear socks and the elephant would smell different socks to identify whether cancer is present.”