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Heroic Elephants Sniff Out Land Mines And Cancer In Humans

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An elephant can smell roughly 28,000 times better than a human, which is why elephants at a reserve in South Africa are learning to save lives by detecting both trace amounts of TNT used in landmines, and cancer in humans.

Sean Hensman, a conservationist and guide who leads safari groups in South Africa, gave ABC News a walk-through of his studies, which use the animals' super-sensitive trunks to identify illnesses in humans like cancer by smelling the tiny volatile chemicals given off by tumors. There's no word yet on how adept the pachyderms are at disease-sleuthing, but Hensman hopes that by bringing awareness to the benefits elephants have to people, locals will be more inclined to help save them.

"If local communities who have these animals in their backyard see a value to them, then hopefully they will want them around for future generations as oppose to just destroying them because they're eating their crops," he said.

Elephants wouldn't be the first animals with incredible cancer-sniffing abilities. Dogs have been observed detecting cancer -- this touching story shows how a dog alerted his owner to her own breast cancer: