Land-Mine-Sniffing Rat Retires After A Five-Year Mission In Cambodia

land mine rat
People's Dispensary for Sick Animals

A five-year veteran of seeking out land mines in Cambodia is retiring following an illustrious and successful extended mission. The veteran is just seven years old, and more surprisingly, a rat.

Magawa, the seven-year-old African giant pouched rat, has been the biggest success story for APOPO, a Belgium-based nonprofit that has brought specially-trained rats from Tanzania to Cambodia’s Thai border region. According to the Guardian, APOPO has also sent rats to Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to do the difficult work of searching for land mines.

Cambodia’s land mines date back to the Khmer Rouge’s reign in the ’70s and ’80s, and nearly 65,000 people have died, with nearly another 25,000 requiring amputations, as a result of the booby traps.

Rats like Magawa, which typically live anywhere from six to eight years, are light enough to navigate mine fields without setting them off, are trained to differentiate between random scrap metal and explosive chemicals.

An Insider article on Magawa noted that he can search a 200 square meter minefield in 20 minutes, which would take a bomb technician using a metal detector anywhere from one to four days.

Magawa’s track record is pretty fantastic: Successfully detecting 71 land mines and 38 explosive remnants over the equivalent of 20 football fields worth of land.

Last September, Magawa even received a civilian award for animal bravery by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals—an award typically reserved for dogs.

But now it’s time to retire. The agency, from its appropriately named @herorats account, tweeted out word of the retirement. “Although still in good health,” the message read, “he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down. It is time.”

There’s still more work to be done by Magawa’s successors, though. According to a 2020 VOA report cited in the Insider article, anywhere from four to six million land mines and other explosives are still buried in Cambodia.

Lead image: People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals

Written by Phil West