Magawa, The Heroic Landmine-Sniffing Rat, Has Died

Rest in cheese, little guy.

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat who spent most of his life sniffing out landmines in Cambodia, died last weekend at the age of 8, the nonprofit that trained him said in a statement Tuesday.

Magawa plays with his handler, So Malen, at the APOPO Visitor Center in Siem Reap, Cambodia in June.
Magawa plays with his handler, So Malen, at the APOPO Visitor Center in Siem Reap, Cambodia in June.

Cindy Liu via Reuters

Magawa, born in a Tanzania breeding colony in 2014, was trained by APOPO, a charity that specializes in teaching animals to detect landmines and tuberculosis by scent.

Over the course of his career (he retired last year), Magawa found more than 100 landmines and other explosives, the nonprofit organization said, describing him as the most successful rat in the program.

“Every discovery he made reduced the risk of injury or death for the people of Cambodia,” the organization said in its statement.

Magawa, a true hero, looks out on the horizon -- for cheese -- after receiving a medal for his lifesaving work.
Magawa, a true hero, looks out on the horizon — for cheese — after receiving a medal for his lifesaving work.

Cindy Liu via Reuters

Rats are specifically suited to landmine detection due to their keen sense of smell and the fact that they’re light enough to step over the mines without setting them off, explained Christophe Cox, APOPO’s CEO and co-founder, in a video (below).

Magawa, who was trained to detect a chemical compound within explosives, cleared more than 242,000 square feet of land during his career, according to APOPO.

He was also capable of searching a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes — a feat that would take a person with a metal detector one to four days, the BBC reported.

Magawa was even awarded a prestigious medal for his lifesaving efforts. In 2020, he received a PDSA Gold Medal from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, the United Kingdom’s leading veterinary charity. Magawa was the only rat to have been granted the honor — typically PDSA honors dogs and occasionally other animals for “outstanding acts of devotion or valor” in civilian life.

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Many on Twitter spoke highly of Magawa when they learned of his death.

Apparently Magawa’s favorite snack was bananas, so here’s hoping everyone peels one in this hero’s honor tonight.

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