Landmine-sniffing rat continues legacy of North Somerset hero

Howes looking for landmines in Cambodia.

Howes looking for landmines in Cambodia. - Credit: MAG

A landmine-sniffing rat has been named in honour of a former British soldier from Backwell who was murdered by the Khmer Rouge in 1996. 

Christopher Howes, from Backwell, and his colleague Houen Hourth were working with the British landmine charity, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) when they were kidnapped along with their team in March 1996. 

Chris Howes

Chris Howes. - Credit: MAG

Christopher and Houen successfully urged the release of the team, offering to stay with their captors to secure their colleagues' freedom. They were both murdered days later by Khmer Rouge guerillas. 

More: Prison for Cambodia murderers.

A landmine-sniffing rat has been named, Howes, after Christopher and has now begun her life-saving work in the country. 

Christopher’s sister Pat Phillips said: “He was passionate about the landmine cause. He always assured us he was careful at his job and wouldn't be hurt, but murder was another thing." 

She added: "The void left in our lives by my brother's needless murder is undiminished. He had so much more to give. But to see his name and his life-saving work continue is a fitting tribute to a loyal, brave and exceptional man."    

Howes is an African giant pouch rat and was trained by Belgian charity APOPO.  

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Christophe Cox, APOPO's chief executive, said: "Landmines remain as painful and dangerous reminders of the past. HeroRATs like Howes significantly speed up landmine detection using their amazing sense of smell and excellent memory.  

“Unlike metal detectors, the rats ignore scrap metal and only sniff out explosives making them fast and efficient landmine detectors.”   

Christopher’s old school friends Mark and Cheryl Appleby came up with the idea to name the rat after Chris after visiting Cambodia to pay tribute to their friend. 

How the landmine -sniffing rat

Howes, the HeroRAT. - Credit: MAG

Christopher, who served with the Royal Engineers for seven years before joining MAG, was posthumously awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in 2001. He died aged 37.

MAG's Cambodia country director, Alexey Kruk said: "Chris and Houen were killed while carrying out their life-saving work freeing communities from the fear of landmines.  

"They were selfless and brave — we remember them as heroes."  

Howes, the HeroRAT, is joining a team of landmine-sniffing rats working in Cambodia with MAG.