Awarding winning Tanzanian born rat Magawa has been retired from its job of detecting landmines in Cambodia.
Magawa is among many giant African rats that have been working in Cambodia to detect landmines left behind after the country’s civil war.
There are thought to be up to six million landmines in the South East Asian nation. Rats have played a vital role in helping experts detect the landmines.
Apopo, a Belgian non-profit organization which is based in Tanzania, trains African giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis.
Magawa is among many African giant rats trained by Apopo and dispatched to Cambodia to detect the landmines.
The hero rodent has sniffed out 71 landmines and dozens more unexploded items in Cambodia in its five year career.
Magawa became the darling of many because of its impressive work, it was even awarded a gold medal for its heroism.
The PDSA Gold Medal, which is an animal bravery award that acknowledges the bravery and devotion to duty of animals, was awarded to Magawa in September 2020.
Magawa was the first rat to be given the medal in the charity’s 77-year history. Most of the times it’s usually animals like dogs that bag the PDSA award.
The giant Tanzanian rat is also known by its official job title is “HeroRAT”. It works faster than a human with metal detectors.
Magawa is capable of searching a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes – while a human with a metal detector takes between one and four days.
Rats are trained to detect a chemical compound within the explosives, meaning they ignore scrap metal and can search for mines more quickly.
Once they find an explosive, they scratch the top to alert their human co-workers who take on the task of deactivating the mine or safely exploding it.
Magawa weighs 1.2kg and is 70cm long, it’s just small and light enough not to trigger mines if it walks over them.
Landmines are usually designed to explode when stepped on by anything heavy enough to exert pressure on the detonation mechanism.
Magawa’s handler Malen says the 7-year-old partner is slowing down because it has reached old age, and she wants to respect its needs that comes with ageing.
“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,” Magawa’s handler Malen said in an interview with the press.
A new batch of young rats have already been assessed by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) and passed with flying colors.