Magawa, an African giant pouched rat known for saving lives in Cambodia, has died after a five-year career detecting landmines and other unexploded devices left over from conflicts that to this day kill or seriously injure one person every hour.
The "hero rat" cleared 141,000 square kilometers of land, finding 100 dangerous devices over his eight years of life.
"All of us at APOPO are feeling the loss of Magawa, and we are grateful for the incredible work he's done,” APOPO, the mine-clearing non-governmental organization that trained him, said in a statement Tuesday. “His contribution allows communities in Cambodia to live, work, and play; without fear of losing life or limb.”
Cambodia, a country of 16 million people in Southeast Asia, is one of the most landmine-affected nations in the world.
A three-decade civil war saw upwards of 6 million landmines littered across the Kingdom from the 1970s to the late 1990s. Over 64,000 deaths and more than 40,000 amputations have taken place in the years since, and while vast patches of land have now been cleared, more than 1,000 contaminated square kilometers are thought to remain.
As a result, Cambodia is home to the world’s highest ratio of mine amputees per capita.
The benefits of training rats to clear landmines, according to APOPO, are their size, efficiency, and keen sense of smell.
The animals, which weigh close to a kilogram, can travel over the explosive devices without setting them off, and clear an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes — an expanse that would take a deminer using a metal detector close to four days.
The rats are trained to pick up the scent of the chemicals used in the devices and alert their handlers.
These incredible rats can also be trained to sniff out tuberculosis, the world's second most fatal infectious disease.
LandmineFree 2025, a global campaign to see a world free from landmines in the next few years, is calling on all governments that committed to the goal at the Oslo Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty in 2019 to step up their efforts and increase funding.
The activists say that doing so is critical because injuries from landmines often leave individuals unable to continue to work, increasing their risk of living in poverty. Contaminated land also poses challenges to developing essential infrastructures like roads and bridges while also limiting the opportunities for farming and housing.
Despite affecting a quarter of the world’s countries, just 0.2% of foreign aid is dedicated to landmine clearing.