Retired 'HeroRAT' Dies at Age 8

Magawa sniffed out land mines in Cambodia until punching his last time card last year
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2021 8:13 AM CDT
Updated Jan 11, 2022 11:00 AM CST
He's Helped 'Save Many Lives.' He's Also a Rat
Cambodian land mine detection rat Magawa wears his PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.   (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals via AP, File)

(Newser) Update: "A hero is laid to rest." So read the announcement Tuesday on the death of Magawa, the rat that became a legend in Cambodia for his award-winning work in sniffing out land mines. Belgian charity Apopo notes in its release that Magawa, 8, had seemed in generally good health of late, but that "towards the weekend he started to slow down, napping more and showing less interest in food." The BBC reports that the respected rodent had discovered more than 100 land mines and other explosives over his five-year career, and that he was the most successful rat trained by Apopo. "Every discovery he made reduced the risk of injury or death for the people of Cambodia," Apopo notes. Our original story from June 2021 follows:

A hero of Cambodia is retiring. Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, has spent the last five years sniffing out land mines in the Southeast Asian country, which suffered a US onslaught, civil war, and Vietnamese invasion in the 1960s and '70s, clearing out more than 2.4 million square feet of land, per CNN. "Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down," according to APOPO, a charity that has been raising and delivering land-mine-detecting rats, known as "HeroRATs," to various countries since the 1990s. Magawa not only found 71 land mines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance, but was also the first non-canine in the 77-year history of British veterinary charity People's Dispensary for Sick Animals to be awarded its gold medal for bravery, per the BBC and the AP.

Rats like Magawa are small enough not to set off a land mine if they scurry over one. Trained to detect the scent of explosive chemicals, they scratch the ground to show handlers a potential explosive. In awarding him their medal, the PDSA said Magawa could clear an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, while a human with a metal detector could take up to four days to do the same. "Magawa's performance has been unbeaten, and I have been proud to work side-by-side with him," says his handler, Malen, per the BBC. "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." There are thought to be up to 6 million land mines in Cambodia. APOPO says Magawa will "mentor" a new batch of rats approved by the Cambodian Mine Action Center for a few weeks before leaving the field. (Read more rats stories.)

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