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Magawa rat retires after years of hardwork

Cambodia: Rats are usually stereotyped as furry rodents who trespass houses, spread disease, and steal cheese. But not Magawa. This 5-year-old African giant pouched rat has been trained to smell out landmines in Cambodia.
After five years of sniffing out land mines and unexploded ammunition in Cambodia, Magawa is retiring. The African giant rat has been the most successful rodent instructed and managed by a Belgian non-profit, APOPO, to detect land mines and warn his human handlers so the ammunition can be carefully removed.

Magawa has unblocked over 141,000 square meters (1.5 million square feet) of land, the equivalent of some 20 soccer fields, sniffing out 71 land mines and 38 items of unexploded ammunition, according to APOPO. And for the initial time, he got a British charity’s top civilian honor for animal bravery last year, an award so far solely reserved for dogs.“Although still in good health, he has reached retirement age and is starting to slow down, It is time,” APOPO said.

While several rodents can be prepared to recognize smells and will act at repeated duties for food rewards, APOPO determined that African giant pouched rats were best fit to land mine clearance because their size lets them move across minefields without triggering the bombs and make it much faster than people. They also survive up to eight years.

Magawa is part of a group of rats developed for this mission. He was born in Tanzania in 2014, and in 2016, moved to Cambodia’s northwestern city of Siem Reap, home of the famous Angkor temples, to start his bomb-sniffing career. After graduating from training, Magawa went to work in Cambodia, where an approximated 64,000 people have died and more than 25,000 have sustained injuries due to landmines left behind after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge communist administration in 1979.

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APOPO also operates with programs in Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to clear millions of mines left-back from wars and battles. More than 60 million people in 59 nations remain to be threatened by land mines and unexploded ammunition. In 2018, landmines and other scraps of war killed or wounded 6,897 people, the group states.


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