Landmine sniffer rat Magawa retires after years of courageous work in Cambodia


After five years of detecting landmines and unexploded ordnance in Cambodia, Magawa is retiring.

The giant African pocket rat has been the most effective rodent trained and supervised by a Belgian nonprofit, APOPO, to find landmines and alert its human handlers so that the explosives can be safely removed. Last year, Magawa won a British charity’s most prestigious civilian award for animal bravery – an honor so far reserved exclusively for dogs.

“Although still in good health, he has reached retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down,” said APOPO. “It’s time.”

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Magawa cleared more than 141,000 square meters (1.5 million square feet) of land, the equivalent of about 20 football fields, sniffing 71 landmines and 38 unexploded ordnance, according to APOPO.

While many rodents can be trained to detect odors and will work on repetitive tasks for food rewards, APOPO has decided that giant African pocket rats are best suited for demining because their size allows them to traverse minefields. without setting off the explosives – much faster than people. They also live up to eight years.

This undated file photo provided by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) shows Cambodian landmine-detecting rat, Magawa, wearing his PDSA gold medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, in Siem, in Cambodia.

This undated file photo provided by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) shows Cambodian landmine-detecting rat, Magawa, wearing his PDSA gold medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, in Siem, in Cambodia.
(PA)

Magawa is part of a cohort of rats bred for this purpose. He was born in Tanzania in 2014 and moved in 2016 to the city of Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia, where the famous Angkor temples are located, to begin his career as a bomb sniffer.

In retirement, Magawa will live in her same cage as before and follow the same daily routine, but will no longer go to the minefields, said Lily Shallom, spokesperson for APOPO, contacted by phone at operational headquarters. of the organization in Tanzania.

He will be fed the same food, play every day, and get regular exercise and check-ups. He mainly eats fresh fruits and vegetables, Shallom said, supplemented with small, sun-dried fish for protein and imported pellets for vitamins and fiber. For 20 to 30 minutes a day, he is released into a larger cage with facilities such as a sandbox and a running wheel.

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APOPO also works with programs in Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to clear millions of mines left by wars and conflicts.

More than 60 million people in 59 countries continue to be threatened by landmines and unexploded ordnance. In 2018, landmines and other remnants of war killed or injured 6,897 people, the group said.

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