Revered landmine-detecting rat Magawa retires after years of service

By | June 5, 2021

This rat dedicated its life to saving human lives. 

Following five years of service detecting landmines in Cambodia, Magawa, the African giant pouched rat, is retiring from his job. 

“He is small but he has helped save many lives allowing us to return much-needed safe land back to our people as quickly and cost-effectively as possible,” his handler, Malen, told the BBC. “Magawa’s performance has been unbeaten, and I have been proud to work side-by-side with him.”

In the course of his career, Magawa detected 71 landmines as well as dozens of other unexploded items in Cambodia, where there are estimated to be up to 6 million landmines. 

As he enters his sunset years, however, Malen says he is “slowing down.” By relieving him of his work responsibilities, she hopes to “respect his needs.”

Apopo, the Tanzania-based charity which trained Magawa, is now looking to train the rodent’s successor. A batch of young candidates assessed last week by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre were quite promising and passed evaluation “with flying colors,” the BBC reported. 

The award-winning rat hero is ready for retirement.
Award-winning rat hero Magawa is ready for retirement.

Although retirement is now imminent for Magawa, he is staying on for a few more weeks to “mentor” the new rodent recruits and assist in their transition to the gig. The job involves discerning explosives from scrap metal, which contains similar chemical compounds. The rats scratch the top of the explosive once they locate it. 

Magawa departs his position on a high note: Last year, the 2.6-pound, 28-inch-long hero became the first rat to win the UK’s top animal bravery award and named a “HeroRAT.”

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“The work of HeroRAT Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding,” Jan McLoughlin, head of the UK charity PDSA, which gives out the award, said at the time. “HeroRAT Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines.”

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