Award-winning rat retires from job sniffing out landmines

·2-min read
<p>Magawa, pictured with his PDSA gold medal, became Apopo’s most successful detection rat</p> (AP)

Magawa, pictured with his PDSA gold medal, became Apopo’s most successful detection rat

(AP)

A rat that has saved countless lives by sniffing out 71 landmines and dozens more hidden explosives is retiring from duty.

Magawa was so successful in his five-year career detecting unexploded ordnance in Cambodia that he became the first rat to be given the PDSA gold medal, sometimes described as “the George Cross for animals”.

The seven-year-old animal was among cohorts of so-called heroRATs bred for the purpose in Tanzania.

African giant pouched rats, which live for up to eight years, are larger than most rats but light enough to walk over a landmine without setting it off.

Magawa, who is 70cm long, became the most successful rodent trained by a Belgian charity, Apopo, which says he has cleared more than the equivalent of 20 football fields, discovering 71 landmines and 38 other unexploded items.

Now Apopo says although still in good health, Magawa has reached a retirement age “and is clearly starting to slow down”, adding: “It is time.”

As a young rat, Magawa would have been trained using a clicker and food rewards when he got near to something with the scent of the explosive chemicals used in landmines.

After just nine months he passed all his tests and was put to work in southeast Asia, alerting human handlers to a find by scratching the soil.

Cambodia is thought to have up to 6 million landmines.

His handler, known only as Malen, told the BBC she wanted to “respect his needs”.

“Magawa’s performance has been unbeaten, and I have been proud to work side-by-side with him,” Malen said.

“He 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.”

The rat can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, which would take a human with a metal detector up to four days, according to the PDSA.

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