Cambodia’s mine-sweeping rat who was awarded a gold medal for his heroism has died aged eight.
Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, sniffed out 71 landmines and 38 unexploded artillery in a five-year career as a “hero rat”.
Magawa was trained as part of a Belgian charity Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development (APOPO), which teaches animals, including dogs and rats, to alert human handlers of mines in the area, so that they can be removed safely.
The non-government organisation said the rodent “passed away peacefully” over the weekend.
“Magawa was in good health and spent most of last week playing with his usual enthusiasm, but towards the weekend he started to slow down, napping more and showing less interest in food in his last days,” APOPO said in a statement.
Magawa was born and trained in Tanzania before moving to Cambodia for his bomb-sniffing career, where he was awarded a gold medal – described by the BBC as the “George Cross for animals” – by British veterinary charity PDSA in 2020.
APOPO said the rat was retired from duties in June 2021.
According to PDSA, Cambodia has one of the highest rates of amputees per capita due to landmines in the world. There are thought to be six million landmines in Cambodia.
APOPO trains animals to sniff out a chemical compound within the landmines and other explosives.
A rats’ intelligence, keen sense of smell, and lightweight allows the animal to detect the devices without setting them off.
Magawa was said to be capable of searching a field the size of a tennis court in 20 minutes – a feat that, APOPO said, would take a person with a metal detector one to four days.
The charity reports Magawa swept the equivalent of 20 football pitches for landmines during his career.
“Every discovery he made reduced the risk of injury or death for the people of Cambodia,” APOPO said.
“It is thanks to all of you that Magawa will leave a lasting legacy in the lives that he saved.”