Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Magawa the "hero rat," has found 71 landmines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance in Cambodia. After nine months of training, Magawa was certified as having a 100% accuracy rate by his training organization, APOPO, a non-governmental land mine-clearing organization. According to the Cambodian Mine Action Authority between 1979 and 2020 64,713 people have been killed or injured from land mine accidents, and over 4,000 amputees. Most are innocent civilians and 46% are children at the time of the explosion, and lose limbs as a result. Cambodia, with its random placement and the massive amount of buried unexplosive devices, has been difficult to clear by traditional technology. But according to APOPO, Megawa can clear an area the size of a tennis court in thirty minutes. It would take humans with technology four days hours to clear this amount of land.
Magawa is an African Pouch Rat and was awarded a gold medal from the British veterinary charity the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) last year. This prestigious award for his life-saving work was presented after a five-year career. APOPO said Magawa was ready to retire, and deserves to relax after his life of service, and will continue to have a well-cared-for life in their training facility, or may be adopted.
APOPO trains the rats, who each have their own name, and are very socialized and cuddled by their handlers, using clicker training beginning at nine weeks of age. Using this positive training method, the rat learns that the sound of a click means they are going to get a food reward. It takes about a year to train a rat to have 100% accuracy.
African Pouch rats have a poor sense of sight, but a very strong sense of smell. In the field, Magawa wears a harness, and works along a system of pulley ropes. These animals are very methodical and have a strong work ethic when rewarded by food. When Magawa detects the scent of TNT, he will stop at the spot, and scratch the area to indicate to his team that they need to come in and excavate the buried mine. His work has allowed farmers and children to live and work safely on the land that is one of the most important sources of economic sustenance in Cambodia.
Magawa has helped APOPO clear more than 225,000 square meters of land in Cambodia, where decades of conflict have left the landscape strewn with dangerous unexploded devices. Although Magawa is larger than the average pet rat and has a very long tail, these rats are light enough that they would never set off a landmine by walking over it, the way children and unsuspecting adults, or professional de-miners or even bomb detection dogs might.
Christophe Cox, the CEO of APOPO, which operates in 59 countries, says they have recently cleared about 4.3 million square meters of land in Cambodia, which would not have been possible without little rat heroes like Magawa.
Thank you to Magawa and all the life-saving rats trained by APOPO!
It's about time the rats in this world got some respect!
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Genie joseph, PhD
The Human-Animal Connection