Hero Rat Retires After Finding 70 Land Mines in Five Years


Magawa is Cambodia’s most decorated rat. The African giant pouched rat has spent the last five years sniffing out land mines across the Southeast Asian nation. In September 2020, Magawa was awarded a prestigious gold medal for bravery from the British charity PDSA, an honor that had previously only gone to dogs.

Although Magawa is still young for a rat, his retirement is a bittersweet episode that had been decided for the rat’s own safety. Magawa’s sniffing skill is still accurate, but he had been slower than his younger self, according to APOPO, the organization that trained him. 

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

According to APOPO, Magawa has cleared more than 2.4 million square feet of land in Cambodia, a country still grappling with millions of undiscovered mines in thousands of hectares of land. A total of 71 land mines and 38 ordnance were found by Magawa. 


Chinese Land Mines in Cambodia

Photo by Shutterstock.

Cambodia has the highest rates of land mine-related injuries in the world. According to the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), there are an estimated four to six million mines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance scattered across the country. 

Training an African Giant Pouched Rat

Photo by Shutterstock.
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Most of the mines were made by China and placed by the warring factions of Cambodia during the civil war in the 1970s through 1980s. The Khmer Rouge laid a significant amount of mines all over Cambodia as a deterrent to people, but also as a way to protect certain territories from invasion. 

Giant Rats Employed Across Mine Fields

Since 2016, APOPO and CMAC have been working closely to clear land mines in the country. Using African giant pouched rats proved revolutionary, as they are very light on their feet and are easily trainable to sniff out unexploded land mines and ordnance. 

Over 4,500 land mines have been found by these pouched rats since 2017. Magawa is the top performer among the rats. The rats have an acute sense of smell that proved better than metal detectors. They are trained to stop and scratch at the ground when they detect a land mine. 

According to APOPO, Magawa will spend the rest of his life being pampered and spoiled at the organization’s retirement center for their African giant pouched rats. He will spend his remaining days stuffing his cheek pouches with peanuts, kernels, and dried berries. 

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