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5 Surprisingly Employable Animals

When most people think of working animals they picture Seeing Eye dogs or farm animals. But there’s a whole world of animals with jobs that are a little more… unorthodox.

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1. Military Dolphins

Everyone loved Flipper when they were a kid. What a friendly, helpful dolphin! Well, it looks like Flipper just got a whole lot more helpful; he’s joined the Marines. Since the late 1950s the U.S. military’s Marine Mammal Program has been working with dolphins and sea lions to see if they could be employed for the purpose of national security.

The dolphin’s echolocation and high intelligence make them ideal in detecting mines, patrolling harbours, guarding boats against unwanted underwater incursions and aid in the retrieval of lost equipment. Mine detection is especially vital. Of the 19 Navy ships that have been destroyed since 1950, 14 of them were sunk by mines.

When detecting mines, the dolphins use their natural echolocation to safely attach floating markers to mines either buried in the sediment or floating in deep water. The mines will then either be avoided by ships or removed by Navy divers.

This training program was made public 1990s when the files documenting the government program were released. The U.S. Military now proudly shows off their partnership with our marine mammal friends.

(Photo courtesy of Beverley & Pack/Flickr)

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2. Cancer Sniffing Dogs

Everyone has heard of drug sniffing dogs, but our four-legged friends can be used to detect much more than just illegal substances. In 2004 Carolyn M. Willis and a group of fellow scientists published an article in the British Medical Journal. Their theory: because diseases like cancer have an effect on your body’s chemistry, dogs could be trained to smell the difference between normal healthy people and those who have bladder cancer. Turns out they were right.

The dogs were trained to smell various urine samples and lay down in front of the samples that had come from cancer sufferers. Though the dogs Willis and her team trained for the study couldn’t pick the samples that came from people suffering from bladder cancer with perfect accuracy, the scientists’ results were very encouraging. More recent studies have found that trained dogs can pick out breast cancer and lung cancer sufferers with between 88 and 97 per cent accuracy.

(Photo by Thinkstock)

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3. Bomb Detecting Bees

It’s estimated that 800 people die each month because of landmines. UNICEF says that there are currently 110 million landmines buried around the world in 64 different countries. These hidden killers are notoriously hard to clear; it takes time and patience and caution. And money, lots of money. UNICEF estimates that it takes between $300 and $1000 to clear a single landmine.

But what if there were an easier way? One of the hardest parts of clearing landmines is figuring out where they are. Just searching them out can be dangerous. So what’s the answer?

Bees! Honeybees travel far and wide sniffing out flowers as a source of nectar. Using this principle, scientists have begun to utilize the bees’ sensitive smell receptors to sniff out bombs and other explosive chemicals. The bees are first trained to associate the smell of chemicals with a food source. Once this connection has been firmly established, the bees are ready to go.

Some researchers use a system where the bees are released and will swarm the source of the chemicals they believe is a source of food, finding the bomb. Others use captive bees and simply measure when the bee extends its proboscis when it smells “food.” Companies are now trying to figure out more ways to employ bees for the betterment of human kind. A British company, Inscentinel, has been developing a system to use honeybees as chemical detector for security and sanitation purposes.

(Photo by Thinkstock)

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Photo: Cattlaya Art/Shutterstock

4. Earthquake Predicting Snakes

China experienced three earthquakes in 2008 alone. The Sichuan earthquake of May 2008 was deemed the deadliest the country had seen in over 30 years and the strongest it had seen in nearly 60 years.

So, when faced with such devastating natural disasters, where did the Chinese government turn? High-tech equipment? World renowned scientists? Nope. Snakes. Those in power began observing what they dubbed “head-banging” snakes.

Due to their physiology, snakes are extremely sensitive to environmental changes. When head-banging snakes feel an earthquake coming they respond by behaving erratically.

“If the earthquake is a big one, the snakes will even smash into walls while trying to escape,” explained Jiang Weisong, director of the earthquake bureau in Nanning, China.

The Nanning bureau, located in a city that is particularly earthquake prone, has set up a system that monitors the snakes’ behaviour 24/7 using cameras and a broad band Internet connection in the hopes that they’ll be able to predict the next killer tremor that strikes the area. The head-banging snakes are said to be able to feel an oncoming earthquake 75 miles away and up to five days before it happens.

(Photo by Thinkstock)

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5. Therapy Cats

More and more often pets are popping up in hospitals and old age homes. Enthusiasts claim that interacting with animals on a regular basis can calm the nerves, lower blood pressure and helps you live longer. Dogs are the most common therapy animals as the pets have to be friendly and well behaved to earn a spot helping the invalid-two things that most cats aren’t always able to be.

But recent research shows that just because cats don’t wag their tails or look at you with a happy expression, doesn’t mean they can’t help the healing process. Cats have something on their side: their purr.

Cats purr at a frequency anywhere between 50 and 150 Hertz. Research has shown that sounds in those frequencies can improve bone density and promote healing. This research has lead to a rise in the popularity of therapy cats and a new respect for the medical benefits cats impart.

(Photo by Thinkstock)