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Magawa, rat who detected anti-personnel mines in Cambodia, dies in retirement

A landmine-detecting rat in Cambodia who received a prestigious award for his rescue work has died in retirement, the charity he had worked for has announced.

Magawa, a giant African rat in his pocket, died last weekend, an announcement posted on the website of APOPO, a non-profit group headquartered in Belgium, said. The organization trains rats and dogs to detect landmines and tuberculosis.

“All of us at APOPO feel the loss of Magawa and we are grateful for the incredible job he has done,” said the announcement. Magawa was born in November 2013 in Tanzania, where APOPO maintains its operational headquarters and its training and breeding center. He was sent to Cambodia in 2016.

Magawa’s death was announced a day after three demining experts working for another group were killed by an accidental explosion of an anti-tank mine in Cambodia’s northern province of Preah Vihear. Nearly three decades of civil war that ended in 1998 has left Cambodia littered with landmines and other unexploded ordnance that continue to kill and maim.

APPO’s Cambodia office offered condolences for the three dead and one injured from the Cambodia Self-Help Demining Group.

Honored for saving lives

According to APOPO, Magawa detected more than 100 landmines and other explosives during his five-year career before retiring last year.

“His contribution enables Cambodian communities to live, work and play without fear of losing their life or a member,” the group said. In 2020, the rat also won a gold medal from the UK-based People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, considered the highest award for bravery an animal can receive.

Magawa performs with her former teacher So Malen at the APOPO Visitor Center in Siem Reap on June 10, 2021. (Cindy Liu / Reuters)

Giant African pocket rats are believed to be particularly well suited for mine clearance, as their small size allows them to pass through minefields without setting off explosives.

Retired in Siem Reap province in northwest Cambodia, Magawa was housed in his usual cage and fed the same food – mostly fresh fruits and vegetables – that sustained him during his active career. To keep him in shape, he was released for 20 to 30 minutes a day in a larger cage with facilities such as a sandbox and a rolling wheel. His death at the age of eight was not unusual for the species.