Magawa the Landmine-Sniffing Rat Was an International Hero. His Work Is Far From Over

Magawa, an African large pouched rat, was probably by no means conscious of his legacy. He sniffed out greater than 100 landmines and different explosives in Cambodia throughout his 5 years with the Tanzania-based worldwide charity APOPO, permitting them to be safely eliminated.

Magawa died Jan. 8 at age 8, about six months after being retired from mine looking.

For his work, he was given a gold medal by the British veterinary charity Folks’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in 2020—the very best civilian award an animal can obtain, and the primary time a rat acquired such an honor. PDSA mentioned that on the time, he was in a position to make 35 acres of land secure and livable for Cambodians. The award turned Magawa into a world hero.
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Magawa was one in every of a whole lot of “hero rats” which have been educated because the Nineteen Nineties by APOPO to detect landmines. In half-hour, these rats can scan swathes of land as massive as tennis courts for any presence of explosive chemical compounds. A human being with a metallic detector will take 4 days to do the identical job. Whereas different animals will be educated to detect mines, APOPO discovered rats finest suited to the job resulting from their small dimension—weighing lower than three kilos, they’re too mild to set off the landmines.

Courtesy of APOPOMagawa and different African large pouched rats are educated for 9 to 12 months to smell out landmines. Due to their mild weight, they received’t set off a mine in the event that they occur to run over one.

However Magawa’s fame helped introduce the world to the life-saving work rats are doing, and served as a reminder to the continued menace of landmines in lots of locations on the earth.

“He has been sort of an envoy for APOPO highlighting our work,” the group’s chief government, Christophe Cox, says. “We get reactions from the smallest, unthinkable villages in each nook of the world, so that’s necessary—not just for us, but additionally for the individuals affected by landmines, in Cambodia and elsewhere.”

Marred by a long time of civil warfare till the late Nineteen Nineties, the Southeast Asian nation is among the many closely land-mined nations on the earth: A report from Cambodia Mine Motion Authority in July 2021 discovered that undetected explosives have killed and injured some 65,000 individuals because the Khmer Rouge’s bloody regime fell in 1979. Quite a lot of factions, together with the Khmer Rouge, Vietnamese forces and the U.S. navy, laid these mines throughout the nation in the course of the warfare, and lots of nonetheless stay. Cambodia has the very best per capita variety of mine amputees on the earth, with greater than 40,000, the PDSA mentioned.

APOPO’s program in Cambodia has to this point detonated 6,400 landmines. However the Cambodia Mine Motion Authority stories that there’s nonetheless greater than 300 sq. miles of land nonetheless contaminated by mines, whereas 275 sq. miles nonetheless has unexploded cluster munitions and one other 200 sq. miles has different explosive remnants of warfare.

Cambodia is simply one of many 59 nations the world over the place uncleared mines pose a menace to communities, APOPO says. Different nations reminiscent of Zimbabwe, Angola, and Mozambique are additionally dealing with mine clearance issues.

Cox believes Magawa’s worldwide fame could assist safe extra funding for the group to proceed its work. In response to Cox, many of the group’s funding comes from foundations, whereas the remainder comes from public help by way of “adoptions” of mine-clear rats, authorities help and analysis grants.

Magawa’s stellar report made him one of many prime rats put up for “adoption”—a method for the group to generate extra funding for coaching different rats, in addition to investing in analysis and improvement.

With extra funding, Cox says the group might analysis new makes use of for the rats’ extremely delicate noses, together with sniffing out smuggled unlawful wildlife merchandise, detecting soil contamination and even discovering survivors buried beneath rubble in instances of catastrophe.

However APOPO’s work is already minimize out for it in eradicating mines in Cambodia, Cox says. The nation of 17 million—as a signatory of the Ottawa conference which bans the use, stockpiling, manufacturing and switch of anti-personnel (AP) mines—solely has till Dec. 31, 2025 to clear its lands of the explosives—remnants of a warfare that continues to assert lives of unsuspecting residents till at the moment.

Earlier this week, native media reported that three mine removing consultants died and one sustained critical accidents when an anti-tank mine exploded in a village within the northern Cambodian province of Preah Vihear. The victims had been aged between 26 to 32 years outdated.

“The individuals there who at the moment are affected by landmines, they weren’t even born by the point [the mines] had been laid,” Cox says.


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