Magawa the Hero Rodent Retires from Job Detecting Landmines
By Ella Chen
Recently, an African giant pouched rat named Magawa, trained to sniff and detect explosives in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has retired. He has helped clear 2,420,000 square feet (225,000 square meters) and sniffed out 71 landmines during his remarkable five year career. He received British veterinary charity PDSA’s gold medal for bravery in 2020.
Magawa was one of Belgian non-profit APOPO’s most successful HeroRATs, a group of animals in Tanzania that have been raised to detect landmines since the 1990s. The nonprofit teaches animals by giving them treats after accomplishing a task, believing that the intelligent African giant pouched rodents are perfect for such a dangerous job - being easy to train and light enough to walk through the minefields without triggering the concealed explosives. Plus, the animals’ ability to smell the chemicals in landmines make them more efficient than human-held detectors that go off upon any scrap of metal. Born in 2013, Magawa is one of hundreds of African giant pouched rats APOPO has trained since the 1990s.
Malen, his handler, said: “Magawa’s performance has been unbeaten, and I have been proud to work side-by-side with him. 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. But he is slowing down, and we need to respect his needs. I will miss working with him!”
Landmines are hidden devices designed to explode when people or vehicles pass over or near them. First used in World War II to protect strategic areas, much as bridges or borders, as well as restricting the movement of opposing forces, landmines have since then been used in numerous conflicts, such as the VietnamWar, the first Gulf War, and the Korean War. The location of each device was carefully marked and mapped during the early years, but things became a bit sloppy as the practice of using landmines continued, making it difficult to locate the dangerous explosives once wars had ended.
Today, over 60 million people living in 59 different countries — from Angola to Cambodia — live in daily fear of landmines and other dangerous remnants of past wars. Hopefully, with brave detection rodents like Magawa hard at work to sniff out these landmines, the threats will soon be removed.
Photo Credits: apopo.org