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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Magawa, the landmine-sniffing hero rat, dies aged eight


Magawa, the famous mine-clearing rat who was awarded a gold medal for his heroism, has died at the age of eight.

Over the course of five years, the rodent sniffed out over 100 landmines and other explosives in Cambodia.

Magawa was the most successful rat trained by the Belgian charity Apopo to alert human handlers about mines so they could be removed safely.

The African giant pouch rat “passed away peacefully” over the weekend, according to the charity.

Magawa was said to be in good health and to have “spent most of last week playing with his usual zeal.” By the weekend, however, “he began to slow down, napping more and showing less interest in food in his final days.”

Magawa was born in Tanzania and spent a year in training before moving to Cambodia to begin his bomb-sniffing career. It is estimated that there are up to six million landmines in the South East Asian country.

Magawa cleared more than 141,000 square metres (1,517,711 sq ft) of land – the equivalent of 20 football fields – after being trained to detect a chemical compound within the explosives.

He was 70cm (28in) long and weighed 1.2kg (2.6lb). While that is much larger than many other rat species, Magawa was still small and light enough that if he walked over mines, he did not set them off.

Magawa was able to search a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes, which Apopo claims would take between one and four days with a metal detector.

In 2020, Magawa was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal – sometimes described as the George Cross for animals – for his “life-saving devotion to duty”. He was the first rat to be given the medal in the charity’s 77-year history.

The rat retired last June, after “slowing down” as he reached old age.

“All of us at Apopo are feeling the loss of Magawa and we are grateful for the incredible work he’s done,” the charity said in a statement.

His “amazing sense of smell” allowed “communities in Cambodia to live, work, and play; without fear of losing life or limb”, it added.

Apopo has been raising its animals – known as HeroRATs – to detect landmines since the 1990s.


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