After five years of service, Magawa’s rat is about to retire. During his career, male giant rats have sniffed 71 landmines and 38 unexploded ordnance, the Associated Press reported. Last year, the British Veterinary Charity awarded Magawa the first rat to be honored for its courage and dedication.
“Although he is still healthy, he has reached retirement age and is slowing down significantly,” said Abobo, the Belgian NGO that trained Magawa. “It’s about time,” she added. According to the organization, Magawa cleared the territory of 141,000 square meters in Cambodia of mines and unexploded ordnance.
Rats have a well-developed sense of smell and can detect chemical components in explosives. They ignore various metal fragments and search for mines faster than humans. When he encounters one, he alerts his co-worker who accompanies them. Training rodents to search for landmines and unexploded ordnance usually takes a year and the animals receive certification after they are completed.
Born in 2014 in Tanzania, Magawa has been working in Cambodia since 2016. After retirement, he will live in the same cage as before and will have the same daily program with one notable exception: He will no longer go to the minefields. But he will get the same food, play regularly and exercise for half an hour a day. He also undergoes regular medical examinations. According to the Associated Press, giant rats live up to eight years.
Cambodia is one of the world’s most mine-affected countries, according to MAG International, a demining organization in more than 20 countries. Landmines in Cambodia are a relic of the fighting between the Khmer Rouge, the government, and other actors, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Since 1979, explosives have killed or wounded more than 64,000 people there.