Magawa, a giant African rat, is about to retire after working for five years detecting landmines in Cambodia — an experience that helped save many lives and even earned him a prize.
“He’s already a little tired,” he told AFP Michael Heiman, director of Cambodia’s demining program for Apopo, a Belgian NGO specializing in training animals for mine detection and tuberculosis symptom detection operations. “It is better for Magawa to retire,” he added.
According to the NGO, in the last five years Magawa has helped to clear about 225,000 square meters.two of land, an area corresponding to 42 football fields. The rodent, which has been being trained for about a year in Tanzania, its home country, has so far detected 71 mines and 38 ammunition that didn’t explode.
In September, Magawa received the British Animal Protection Association (PDSA) gold medal, which annually rewards an animal for its bravery. Magawa was the first mouse to receive this award.
According to PDSA, 4 to 6 million mines have been buried in Cambodia between 1975 and 1998, and more than 64,000 people died due to these mines.
Apopo, which operates in Asia and Africa, trains animals to identify symptoms of tuberculosis, and uses rodents to locate mines, due to its a special talent. for repetitive tasks when they are rewarded with their favorite meals. In addition, their small size protects them from possible explosions.
The rats are trained to detect the dynamite from the explosives, after which they know they have to move the earth around the detected mine, to alert humans of their discovery.
This technique is faster than a detector of traditional metalwork. Magawa, who measures 70 centimeters, can inspect an area equivalent to a tennis court in 30 minutes, a task that a human with a metal detector would take 4 days to perform.
According to Apopo, a group of 20 specially trained rats has just arrived in Cambodia and will begin their mission to detect mines in the country. But it will take some time for the new mine fighters to equal Magawa, who is “an extraordinary mouse”, explains the director of the Belgian NGO.
“We’re going to miss him,” says Michael Heiman.