By Mark Hodge @mrhodgey

AN AFRICAN elephant detects dangerous TNT using its extraordinary sense of smell

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Producer: Mark Hodge, Nick Johnson
Editor: Sonia Estal

Michael Hensman, manager of Adventures with Elephants, displays the filter paper which is placed inside the buckets

Shot in November, this fascinating footage shows Chishuru, a 17-year-old male bull, carefully checking a row of white plastic buckets – one of which contains the explosive material.

The huge animal raises its right leg to signal that he has found the tiny amount of TNT which is placed on a piece of filter paper.

Manager Michael places filter paper inside white buckets

This amazing research is being carried out in Bela Bela in the Limpopo Province of South Africa by wildlife organisation Adventures with Elephants.

In 2007, researchers discovered that a herd in Angola, who were being tracked using GPS technology, were purposely avoiding landmine fields left over from the civil war – which had claimed the lives of many elephants.

Chishuru raises his right foot when he has found the suspect bucket

And when Chishuru was tasked with finding the TNT for the first time in over a year, he did so quickly without any refresher training.

Chishuru carefully inspects each bucket with his powerful trunk

Michael Hensman, manager of Adventures with Elephants, spoke about utilising the animals' outstanding memories and their powerful trunks.

A shot from inside the bucket showing Chishuru's incredible nostrils

He said: “We set out to try and figure out how they were able to avoid those areas and it seems to be related to olfaction.

“We are never going to put elephants in to a dangerous situation like minefields where they could get hurt.

The huge African elephant lets his handler know the bucket contains explosive material
The popular African elephant is rewarded by his handlers

“The idea is to remotely collect samples and bring those samples out to the elephants for landmine area reduction.”

Chishuru is congratulated after another good day's work

This research has been largely funded by the US Army Research Office who are currently working on developing scent detection devices.

Researchers are also looking at other applications for the elephants, including cancer and diabetes screenings.

Zoology student Ashadee Kay Miller explained why elephants have such a finely attuned sense of smell.

A handler stands near the elephants which are being trained to sniff out TNT

She said: “Elephants have a much better sense of smell than dogs do.

“We can say this primarily because they have more than double the amount of olfactory receptor genes in their DNA.

“Not only do elephants have a better sense of smell, but there is a lot less effort required in maintaining them as a biosensor [compared to a dog].”