Magawa, 7, has been scurrying through Cambodia's minefields to suss out explosives and save people from losing life and limb.
  • Magawa is an expert mine-sniffing rat, and helps bomb disposal squads suss out landmines quickly.
  • He is now retiring after five long years trawling Cambodia's minefields for buried explosives.
  • Magawa covered some 20 football fields worth of land, detecting 71 landmines and 38 explosives.
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It has been years of arduous and dangerous work for landmine expert Magawa. He's finally retiring after an illustrious career on a squad of elites trained to suss out landmines.

The catch - Magawa, 7, is a rat.

He is part of the HeroRATs, a squad of African giant pouched rats imported to Siem Reap, Cambodia, from Tanzania. The rodent squad works for Belgian nonprofit Apopo, which finds and safely removes landmines left behind from Cambodia's civil war.

The mines were laid by the Khmer Rouge in the 70s and 80s, and to date, have led to the deaths of nearly 65,000 people, according to non-profit HaloTrust. The bulk of the mines were deposited near Cambodia's border with Thailand, and as the population of Cambodia continues to grow, families have been forced to move closer and closer to the mined area.

Rats like Magawa have an acute sense of smell and are trained to differentiate between random scrap metal and explosive chemicals. At 1.2 kilograms, Magawa is light enough not to trigger bombs even when they step directly on them.

According to Apopo, Magawa can search a 200 square meter minefield in 20 minutes, a task which would take a bomb technician using a metal detector between one and four days.

But after covering some 20 football fields worth of land and successfully detecting 71 land mines and 38 explosive remnants, Apopo believes it is time for him to kick back and relax.

"Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down," Apopo said to the Guardian.

Rats like Magawa are expected to live between six to eight years.

Magawa can now look forward to spending his retirement enjoying his favourite snack of bananas and peanuts. This is well-deserved after the BBC reported last year that Magawa had won a PDSA gold medal in the UK, a top honour for animal bravery. He was rewarded, in particular, for his "life-saving devotion to duty, in the location and clearance of deadly landmines in Cambodia."

According to a 2020 report by VOA, it is estimated that four to six million land mines and other explosives are still buried in Cambodia, left in the wake of its brutal civil war.

Since 1979, mine-clearing non-profit organization Halo Trust recorded over 64,000 deaths and more than 25,000 amputees from landmines and explosives left buried in the country.

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