A minesweeper rat who received the animal equivalent of a George Cross for successfully locating landmines will now retire from her job.
Seven-year-old Magawa, who was trained by the Belgium-registered charity APOPO, discovered 71 land mines and 28 duds in Cambodia during his career and cleared more than 141,000 square meters of land.
Now, five years after he first went into the field, the hero rat’s guide, Malen, said the rodent was slowly slowing down as he neared old age and it was time to “respect his needs.”
It comes just months after the giant African opossum, which can sniff explosives 96 times faster than traditional solutions, was recognized for its work and was awarded a miniature PDSA gold medal – the animal equivalent of the George Cross.
Magawa will be staying with the Tanzania-based charity for a few more weeks to “look after” a new group of rats that were recently examined by the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC).
Magawa, the rat, was recognized for his work last year and was awarded a miniature PDSA gold medal – the animal equivalent of the George Cross
The seven-year-old rat discovered 71 land mines and 28 duds in Cambodia in her five-year career
Rat leader Malen (pictured with Magawa) said the rodent was beginning to “slow down” and that it was time to “respect its needs”.
Malen told the BBC: “Magawa’s performance is unbeaten and I am proud to work side by side with him.
“It’s small, but it has helped save many lives and give us back much-needed safe land as quickly and cheaply as possible.”
Magawa’s intense training began when the rodent was just four weeks old and staff at the APOPO charity in Tanzania began handling the rat and introducing it to sounds and smells.
Before graduating and working in the field, Magawa had to pass a blind test in which a number of improvised landmines were hidden in an area of 400 m².
Last September, Magawa was officially recognized for his work and was awarded a miniature PDSA gold medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross.
He was the first rat in the charity’s 77-year history to receive such an award.
Following on from the success, Christophe Cox, CEO and Co-Founder of APOPO said: ‘We are truly honored to receive this medal. I have been working with APOPO for over 20 years.
“Especially for our animal trainers, who get up very early every day to train these animals in the morning.
The giant African opossum began her intensive training at the charity when she was just four weeks old
The rat had to pass a blind test in which a number of improvised land mines were hidden to graduate
Magawa became the first rat in charity history to receive the miniature PDSA gold medal last September
“But it’s also great for the people of Cambodia and for all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines. The PDSA gold medal brings the problem of landmines into focus around the world.
Jan McLoughlin, Director General of PDSA, said: “The work of Magawa and APOPO is really unique and outstanding.
“Cambodia estimates that between 1975 and 1998 between four and six million landmines were laid in the country, which unfortunately claimed over 64,000 lives.
“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of the men, women and children affected by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death to the local people.
“The PDSA Animal Awards program aims to improve the status of animals in society and recognize the incredible contribution they make to our lives.
“Magawa’s commitment, ability and bravery are an exceptional example of this and deserve the highest recognition. We are very happy to award him the PDSA gold medal. ‘
Magawa was trained at the Belgium registered charity APOPO to identify the chemical compound in explosives
During their APOPO training, rats as young as 10 weeks old are trained to associate the sound of a click with food.
When they approach a tea infuser that contains the scent of TNT, the explosive substance found in landmines, they hear a click and receive a reward for eating.
The intelligent creatures are then taught to distinguish between tea eggs with TNT and those without TNT, to hear only a click, and to receive a reward for reacting with the positive eggs.
The animals can recognize the chemical compound in explosives and ignore scrap metal lying around, which makes them much faster than metal detectors.
The trainers then take the rats outside to work in ground trays under various conditions, with the tea eggs buried in the ground.
The rats cannot qualify as hero rats until they have discovered all of the landmines in the field and do not give more than one false indication.