Landmine-Sniffing Hero Rat, Dies Aged Eight

Tanzanian-born African giant pouched rat, Magawa, who spent a large part of his life sniffing out landmines in Cambodia has died aged eight.

Magawa died in retirement over the weekend according to a statement by APOPO, the nonprofit organization that trained him.

In the Tuesday statement, APOPO said, “[i]t is with a heavy heart that we share the sad news that here rat Magawa passed away peacefully this weekend. Magawa was in good health and spent most of last week playing with his usual enthusiasm, but towards the weekend he started to slow down, napping more and showing less interest in food in his last days. Magawa had recently celebrated his birthday in November, reaching the grand old age of 8.”

The tribute added that Magawa had left a “lasting legacy in the lives that he saved,” adding, “all of us at APOPO are feeling the loss of Magawa and we are grateful for the incredible work he’s done.”

He retired in June 2021 after “his contribution allows communities in Cambodia to live, work, and play; without fear of losing life or limb,” APOPO added.

Before Magawa hugged the spotlight for his bomb-sniffing career, he underwent a year training at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, where he was born. There he was taught to detect a chemical compound within the explosives using his amazing sense of smell.

Three years later he moved to Siem Reap in Cambodia where he went on to sniff out over 100 landmines and other explosives across a 5-year span. He is reported to have cleared over 141,000 square metres (1,517,711 sq ft) of land – which measures about 20 football pitches.

Magawa also gained relevance for outpacing a metal detector in sniffing out landmines. While sniffing out a tennis court would take Magawa 20 minutes, a conventional metal detector would take one to four days.

In September 2020, Magawa became the first rat to be awarded by British veterinary charity PDSA in the charity’s 77-year history.

He won a gold medal for his “life-saving devotion to duty”. The award is regarded as the animal equivalent of Britain’s highest civilian honor for bravery.

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