A mine-detecting rat who was given the animal equivalent of a George Cross for successfully locating land mines will now be retired.
Trained by the Belgium-registered charity APOPO, seven-year-old Magawa discovered 71 landmines and 28 unexploded ordnance in Cambodia during his career, clearing more than 141,000 square meters of land.
Now, five years after he first took to the field, the hero rat’s boss Malen said the rodent had begun to “slow down” as he got older and it was time to “respect his needs.”
It comes just months after the giant African rat in the bag, which can smell explosives ninety-six times faster than conventional solutions, was recognized for its work and awarded a miniature PDSA Gold Medal – the animal equivalent of the George Cross.
Magawa will stay for a few more weeks with the charity, which is based in Tanzania, to ‘mention’ a new batch of rats recently assessed by the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC).
Magawa the rat was recognized for his work last year and was awarded a miniature PDSA Gold Medal – the animal equivalent of the George Cross
The seven-year-old rat discovered 71 landmines and 28 unexploded ordnance in Cambodia during his five-year career
The rat handler Malen (pictured with Magawa) said the rodent was starting to ‘slow down’ and it was time to ‘respect its needs’
Malen told the BBC: ‘Magawa’s performance is unbeaten and I am proud to work side by side with him.
“It’s small, but it has helped save many lives, allowing us to return much-needed safe land to our people as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”
Magawa’s intensive training began when the rodent was just four weeks old and staff at the APOPO charity in Tanzania began handling the rat and introducing it to sounds and smells.
Before graduating and working in the field, Magawa had to pass a blind test in which a number of makeshift land mines were hidden in an area of 400 m2.
Last September, Magawa was formally recognized for his work and awarded a miniature PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross.
He became the first rat in the charity’s 77-year history to receive such an award.
Following the achievement, Christophe Cox, CEO and Co-Founder of APOPO, said: “We are truly honored to receive this medal. I have been working with APOPO for over 20 years.
‘Especially for our animal trainers who wake up very early every day to train those animals in the morning.
The giant African possum began his intensive training for charity when he was just four weeks old
The rat had to pass a blind test that involved hiding a number of makeshift land mines in order to graduate
Magawa became the first rat in charity history to receive the miniature PDSA Gold Medal last September
“But it’s also big for the people of Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines. The PDSA Gold Medal award draws attention to the problem of landmines worldwide.’
Meanwhile, PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin said, “The work of Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding.
Cambodia estimates that between 1975 and 1998 between four and six million landmines were laid in the country, unfortunately causing more than 64,000 victims.
Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children affected by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death to the local population.
“The PDSA Animal Awards program aims to raise the status of animals in society and honor the incredible contribution they make to our lives.
“Magawa’s dedication, skill and courage are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition. We are delighted to award him the PDSA Gold Medal.”
Magawa was trained to detect the chemical compound in explosives with the Belgian registered charity APOPO
During their training with APOPO, rats are trained to associate the sound of a click with food when they are only 10 weeks old.
When they come near a tea infuser with the scent of TNT, the explosive substance in land mines, they hear a click and receive a food reward.
The intelligent creatures then learn how to distinguish between tea eggs containing TNT and those without TNT, only hearing a click and receiving a reward if they react with the positive eggs.
The animals can detect the chemical compound in explosives and ignore scrap metal lying around, making them much faster than metal detectors.
Trainers then take the rats outside to work in clay trays in various conditions, with the tea eggs buried in the ground.
The rats cannot qualify as a hero rat until they have discovered all the landmines in the field, with no more than one false indication.