African giant rat that hunted landmines dies aged eight


Tanzanian hero rat Magawa, who found more than 100 landmines and explosives and saved lives in Cambodia during a five-year career, has died at the age of 8.

Reuters reported that Magawa died over the weekend.

Magawa was the most successful “HeroRAT” deployed by international charity APOPO, which uses African giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis.

“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,” the non-profit organisation said in a statement.

Magawa

Bred in Tanzania, Magawa underwent a year of training before moving to Cambodia to begin his bomb-sniffing career.

The BBC reported that there are thought to be up to six million landmines in the South East Asian country.

Magawa was trained to detect a chemical compound within the explosives. He weighed 1.2kg (2.6lb) and was 70cm (28in) long, small enough and light enough that he did not trigger mines if he walked over them.

The hero rat was capable of searching a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes – something APOPO says would take a person with a metal detector between one and four days.

Magawa cleared more than 141,000 square metres (1,517,711 sq ft) of land – the equivalent of 20 football pitches.

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

It has among the highest number of amputees per capita, with more than 40,000 people having lost limbs to explosives, according to Reuters.

APOPO said Magawa’s contribution allowed communities in Cambodia to live, work, and play more safely.

“Every discovery he made reduced the risk of injury or death for the people of Cambodia,” APOPO said.

The African giant pouched rat received a gold medal in 2020 from Britain’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals for “lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty”.

Magawa, who retired in June 2021, was born in Tanzania and moved to Siem Reap in Cambodia in 2016 to begin clearing mines.