Hero landmine-detecting rat retiring after five years of life-saving work
We all want to wind down when we reach retirement age – and it’s no different for landmine-sniffing rodent Magawa.
After five years of hard work, the African giant pouched rat, known as a “hero rat”, is finishing work on a high following a stellar career in Cambodia.
Magawa is the most successful rodent overseen by the Belgian charity APOPO, an organisation that trains rats to save lives by alerting human handlers to landmines and unexploded bombs so they can safely be removed.
During his career, he has cleared more than 225,000 square metres of land – the equivalent of around 31 football pitches – and discovered 71 landmines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance, the charity says.
He was the first rat in the charity’s 77-year history of honouring animals to receive the medal – joining a line-up of brave dogs, horses, pigeons and a cat.
But now, Magawa has decided its time to relax a bit.
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“Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down,” APOPO said. “It is time.”
Malen, Magawa’s handler, said in a statement: “Magawa’s performance has been unbeaten, and I have been proud to work side-by-side with him.
“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. But he is slowing down, and we need to respect his needs. I will miss working with him!”
Magawa’s are big boots to fill, but luckily the charity has just taken on some new recruits – a group of 20 newly trained landmine detection rats who all passed their entry test “with flying colours”.
While many rodents can be trained to detect scents and will work at repetitive tasks for food rewards, APOPO worked out that African giant pouched rats are well suited to landmine clearance because they are small enough to walk across minefields without triggering explosives – and they do it much more quickly than people.
APOPO also works with programmes in Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to clear millions of mines left behind from wars and conflicts.
More than 60 million people in 59 countries continue to be threatened by landmines and unexploded ordinance, the charity says.