Magawa, a giant African rat, will take a well-deserved retirement after helping to save lives by detecting landmines in Cambodia and even being decorated for his bravery.
“He is starting to get a little tired,” Michael Heiman, head of the Cambodia demining program for the Belgian NGO Apopo, told AFP. “The best is to retire him.” Magawa will thus be able to savor his favorite dishes, bananas and peanuts, as he pleases.
During his five-year career, Magawa helped clean up some 225,000 m2 of land, the equivalent of 42 football fields, according to the NGO that trained him for a year in Tanzania, his country of origin. In total, the large rodent detected 71 mines and 38 unexploded ordnance.
Last September, Magawa was awarded a gold medal by the British association for the protection of animals PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals), which annually rewards an animal for its bravery.
Magawa was the first rat to receive this award, considered the animal equivalent of the George Cross, the highest honor bestowed on civilians.
According to PDSA, between 4 and 6 million mines were laid in Cambodia from 1975 to 1998, killing more than 64,000.
Active in Asia and Africa, the Belgian NGO Apopo, which also trains rats to spot tuberculosis, relies on clearing land for these animals with a particular talent for repetitive tasks when they are rewarded with their dishes. sideburns and whose small size protects them from explosions.
For the detection of TNT contained by explosives, she teaches them to scratch on the ground in order to signal its presence to the humans who work with them.
This technique, which is not based on the presence of scrap metal, allows you to work much faster than with a metal detector. From the height of his 70 cm, Magawa can thus comb the equivalent of a tennis court in 30 minutes, a task that would take up to four days for a human equipped with a metal detector.
According to the NGO, a group of 20 new specially trained rats who have just arrived in Cambodia have received permission from the authorities to begin their mine detection work.
But it will take time for them to equal Magawa, “a very exceptional rat”, assures Michael Heiman. “It is obvious that he will be missed during the operations.”