'Hero Rat' in Cambodia Who Has Spent His Life Discovering Landmines and Saving Lives, Is Retiring

04 June 2021, Hamburg: A naked rat is seen in a cage at the Hamburg animal shelter.
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While working, Magawa became the most successful HeroRAT to date. He’s helped clear over 87 square miles of land and made it safer. He's also discovered 39 landmines.

One hero rat from is Cambodia getting a chance to retire after its life of greatness. According to the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) website, the rat, Magawa, has spent the last five years of his life detecting landmines in Cambodia.

And for this life-saving work, he is the first rat to receive a PDSA Gold Medal. They even had a virtual presentation to tell his incredible story.

Magawa is an African Giant Pouched Rat. He is massive compared to typical rats but is still light enough that he doesn’t set off landmines by walking over them. He began his training at a young age and has worked ever since.

In Tanzania, there is a charity called APOPO. In Dutch, it means Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling, which translates to English as Anti-Personnel Landmines Removal Product Development. Since the 1990’s they’ve trained rats like Magawa to detect landmines. And it’s perfectly safe for these rats to be trained as they are highly intelligent and easy to work with.

It took Magawa, whose official title was HeroRAT, nine months to get properly trained. His handlers use a clicker and treats to help the rat distinguish between the scent of explosive chemicals used in landmines versus regular scrap metal, which he learned to ignore.

Because of his incredible sense of smell, Magawa would detect the landmine chemicals and the signal to his handler. Afterward, they would safely dispose of the mine.

Magawa was not only precise with sniffing out landmines, but he did it quickly. He could tackle an entire tennis court-sized area in roughly 30 minutes. The same task would take a human with a metal detector several days.

During his years working, Magawa became the most successful HeroRAT to date. He’s helped clear over 87 square miles of land and made it safer. He discovered 39 landmines and 28 other items of unexploded ordinance. Each landmine found was a life saved.

As the PDSA explains, “On a daily basis, HeroRAT Magawa’s work is life-saving and life-changing and has a direct impact on the men, women and children in the communities in which he works. For every landmine or unexploded remnant he finds, he eradicates the risk of death or serious injury in locations already suffering significant hardship.”

Even with the work being done with these rats, there are still roughly 80 million landmines worldwide that are lying active. In Cambodia, there are approximately three million unfound landmines alone.

The hidden mines in the region have caused at least 64,000 casualties. In addition, there have been over 40,000 mine amputees in Cambodia. That is the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world.

This is why HeroRAT Magawa and the others like him working are so vital. Up until his retirement date, he will continue to keep Cambodia safe. Afterward, he will enjoy a life of retirement bliss.  

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