‘A hero is laid to rest’: Cambodia’s landmine-sniffing rat dies

Medal-winning Magawa sniffed out more than 100 landmines and explosives during his five year career.

Magawa, a beige coloured furry rate with big ears and long whiskers who has died at the age of eight, sits on a bench wearing the gold medal given to him in 2020 for sniffing out landmines
Magawa, who has died at the age of eight, was honoured with the UK-based People's Dispensary for Sick Animals' (PDSA) highest award for bravery in 2020 [PDSA via AFP]

Magawa, the landmine-sniffing rodent who found more than 100 landmines and explosives in Cambodia and won a medal for heroism, has died at the age of eight, according to the charity that trained him.

Magawa, who retired in June last year, died over the weekend, the international non-profit organisation APOPO announced on Tuesday.

“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.

Scarred by decades of civil war, Cambodia is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries, with more than 1,000sq km (386sq miles) of land still contaminated.

Belgium-based APOPO trains African giant pouched rats to detect landmines, and dubs them “HeroRATs”.

Using the rats to sniff out the mines makes it less dangerous for the human handlers who have to disarm and remove the weapons.

“All of us at APOPO are feeling the loss of Magawa and we are grateful for the incredible work he’s done,” the organisation said in a heartfelt tribute. “His contribution allows communities in Cambodia to live, work and play, without fear of losing life or limb.”

Illustrating the extreme risks involved, three Cambodians working to clear mines died on Monday in a province bordering Thailand.

The three from the Cambodia Self-Help Demining group were killed by blasts from anti-tank mines, which also wounded two others, said Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre.

In 2020, Magawa was honoured with a gold medal from the UK-based People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals for “lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty” – the first rat to receive the award.

Magawa was bred in Tanzania and was brought to Siem Reap in Cambodia in 2016 to begin clearing mines.

“A hero is laid to rest,” APOPO said.

Magawa stands on his hind legs to take a snack from the fingers of his handler as he works to find landmines in a field in Cambodia
Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, gets a treat while at work detecting landmines in Cambodia. [File: PDSA via AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies