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Rat that detected land mines in Cambodia dies in retirement
12 January 2022, 11:44
Magawa detected more than 100 land mines and other explosives during his five-year career.
A land mine-detecting rat in Cambodia who received a prestigious award for his life-saving duty has died in retirement, a charity has announced.
Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, died last weekend, according to APOPO, a Belgium-based non-profit group which trains rats and dogs to sniff out land mines and tuberculosis.
“All of us at APOPO are feeling the loss of Magawa and we are grateful for the incredible work he’s done,” the announcement said.
Magawa was born in November 2013 in Tanzania, where APOPO maintains its operational headquarters and training and breeding centre. He was sent to Cambodia in 2016.
His death was announced a day after three mine removal experts working for another group were killed by an accidental explosion of an anti-tank mine in Cambodia’s northern province of Preah Vihear.
Almost three decades of civil war that ended in 1998 left Cambodia littered with land mines and other unexploded ordnance that continues to kill and maim.
APOPO’s office in Cambodia posted condolences for the three dead and one wounded from the Cambodia Self Help Demining group.
According to APOPO, Magawa detected more than 100 land mines and other explosives during his five-year career before retiring last year.
“His contribution allows communities in Cambodia to live, work and play without fear of losing life or limb,” said the group.
In 2020, Magawa won a gold medal from the Britain-based People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, considered the highest award for gallantry an animal can receive.
African giant pouched rats are believed to be especially well-suited for land mine clearance because their small size lets them walk across mine fields without triggering the explosives.
In retirement in Cambodia’s north-western province of Siem Reap, Magawa was housed in his usual cage, and fed the same food — mostly fresh fruit and vegetables — that sustained him during his active career.
To keep him trim, he was released for 20-30 minutes a day into a larger cage with facilities such as a sandbox and a running wheel.
His death at the age of eight was not unusual for the species.