Landmine-sniffing rat Magawa retires after years of life-saving work in Cambodia

An African giant pouched rat is retiring after five years of sniffing out landmines and unexploded ordnance in Cambodia.

Magawa has been the most successful rodent trained and overseen by the Belgian charity Apopo to find landmines and alert its human handlers so the explosives can be safely removed.

The rodent has cleared more than 141,000 square metres (1.5 million square feet) of land, the equivalent of around 20 football pitches, sniffing out 71 landmines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance, according to Apopo.

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Last year, Magawa won the UK’s PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross – an honour which had previously been won by dogs only.

“Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down,” Apopo said of the rat. “It is time.”

While many rodents can be trained to detect scents and will work at repetitive tasks for food rewards, Apopo decided that African giant pouched rats were best suited to landmine clearance because their size allows them to walk across minefields without triggering the explosives – and they do it much more quickly than people.

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The creatures can also live up to eight years.

Magawa is part of a cohort of rats bred for this purpose. He was born in Tanzania in 2014, and in 2016 he moved to Cambodia’s north-western city of Siem Reap, home of the famed Angkor temples, to begin his bomb-sniffing career.

Apopo also works with programmes in Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to clear millions of mines left behind from wars and conflicts.

More than 60 million people in 59 countries continue to be threatened by landmines and unexploded ordinance.

In 2018, landmines and other remnants of war killed or injured 6,897 people, the group says.