The loss of landmine-hunting rat Magawa is being mourned by many people around the world who remember his prolific career working with demining operators in Cambodia to locate landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Ly Thuch, first vice-president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), said he was saddened to hear of Magawa’s death over the weekend at the age of 8.
Thuch noted that Dutch demining operator Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (APOPO) had trained the rats to assist their staff on mine clearance work in Cambodia with great success over the years.
“They made a huge contribution to mine clearance in Cambodia. Magawa alone contributed a lot and had many achievements which APOPO and everyone working in the field should be proud of,” he said. “We are genuinely saddened by Magawa’s death.”
Magawa made the Guinness World Record book for “Most Landmines Detected by a Rat” with an official tally of 71 mines and 38 UXO units at the time of publication.
Magawa died over the weekend following a period of declining health at the wizened old age of 8 – a period of longevity thought to be near the outermost limits for lifespan in the Gambian giant pouched rat species, even in captivity.
“All of us at APOPO are feeling the loss of Magawa and we are all grateful for the incredible work he’s done,” said APOPO’s press statement.
According to APOPO’s press release, Magawa found over 100 dangerous and potentially explosive objects, making him their most successful mine-hunting rat ever.
“His contribution allows communities in Cambodia to live, work, and play without fear of losing life or limb,” the statement said.
In September 2020, Magawa was formally presented with a PDSA Gold Medal – the highest award for gallantry an animal can receive in the UK, equivalent to the George Cross awarded to humans. He retired last year.
Magawa was trained by APOPO experts in Tanzania and then transferred to Cambodia at the age of nine months to begin his long career.
APOPO and the Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC) are currently training 20 more rats for mine clearance work. Last December, CMAC and APOPO signed a new agreement on mine clearance, including the use of rats and dogs as part of their core operations.