Magawa, 'hero rat' who sniffed out 71 land mines with his tiny nose, dies in retirement – The Washington Post

The explosives-sniffing African giant pouched rat Magawa — holder of a Guinness World Record for the most land mines detected by that species — died in retirement over the weekend. He was 8 years old.
Magawa, who was born in Tanzania, was trained in that East African country to detect explosives. At the age of 3, he moved to Siem Reap, in Cambodia’s northwest, where he helped clear more than 2.4 million square feet of land over the next half decade. (The Southeast Asian country is one of the world’s most dangerous for land mines and explosives because of the Vietnam War and its own bloody 20th-century civil conflict.)
Apopo, the nonprofit that trained the rat, said Magawa had detected 71 land mines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance as of June, when he retired. In September 2020, Magawa was awarded a gold medal for bravery from a British charity — an honor that had previously gone only to dogs.
Magawa celebrated his eighth birthday in November and spent most of his last week in his “usual enthusiasm,” Apopo said in a statement. He slowed down, napped more and showed less interest in eating toward last weekend before dying “peacefully,” the group added.
While Cambodia has not seen significant armed conflict in years, the land mines planted and hidden during its civil war still kill, maim and blind civilians decades later. In 2020, 65 people — nearly 30 percent of whom were children — were killed or maimed by an explosive in that country, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. From 1979 to October 2019, more than 19,000 people in Cambodia were killed by land mines and explosive remnants, and some 45,000 others were injured.
Cambodia was one of the world’s most prolific clearers of land mines in 2020, according to the researchers. Even then, those explosive devices contaminated more than 300 square miles of its land as of the end of that year.
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“[Magawa] is small but he has helped save many lives, allowing us to [return] much-needed safe land back to our people as quickly and cost-effectively as possible,” his handler said upon the rat’s retirement.
African giant pouched rats like Magawa, which are much lighter than the roughly 11 pounds required to trigger land mines, are adroit in the minefields and can pick up on the scent of chemical compounds inside these devices.
Cambodian children who are being taught about the danger of such explosives have also been introduced to the outsize legacy of the tiny rodent. Jessica Laleo, a third-grade teacher in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, said her students oohed and aahed in approval when she told them about Magawa.
They let go of the notion that all rats are “dirty and diseased” and quickly “latched onto the superhero” role the rat played, she said in an interview.
To support the work of these explosives-sniffing rats, Laleo’s students are working to “adopt” Magawa’s successor, or to donate money to help pay for its expenses, the teacher added.
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