Many animals have already become heroes by risking their own lives to protect people from serious dangers. It does not necessarily depend on the size of the animals.
One very clever rat has dedicated its “career” to detecting landmines in the fields of Cambodia, helping many people. After five years of service it is now going into well-deserved retirement.
The country of Cambodia has a major problem with landmines: millions have been laid during the decades of war since the 1970s, and there are still an estimated 3 million undiscovered mines. These continue to cause destruction: over 64,000 people have been seriously injured by landmines.
The non-profit group APOPO has trained rats called HeroRats to detect landmines. They are perfect for this task because they can find the mines quickly, but at the same time they are too light to set them off.
One of these rats is called Magawa and has been detecting mines for five years. The African giant pouch rat was born in Tanzania in November 2013 and started his work in Cambodia in 2016 after three years of training.
With its excellent sense of smell, it smells chemicals in the TNT and signals this to its human companion. The human companion can then dispose of the mine.
“He is very special to me,” Magawa’s main supervisor Malen told the New York Times. “He has found many landmines in his career and saved many Cambodian lives.”
“He is very quick and decisive, but he is also the first to take a nap during a break.”
Magawa has been the most successful of all the HeroRATs, proving that the little guys can make a big difference. According to APOPO, Magawa found 71 landmines and 38 unexploded ordnance.” In the last five years, he has helped clear over 225,000 square metres of land so that local people can live, work, play and educate themselves – without fear of losing life and limb,” APOPO wrote.
Rats are not usually considered particularly heroic and are often associated with sneakiness or unreliability. Magawa, however, has shown how brave rats can be.
Last year, he received a great honour: he was the first rat ever to be awarded the PDSA Gold Medal, which rewards “civil acts of animal bravery and extraordinary devotion to duty”.
Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children affected by these landmines,” said Jan McLoughlin, the charity’s director general, during the virtual ceremony. “Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for people on the ground.”
“Magawa’s dedication, skill and bravery are an exceptional example and deserve the highest possible recognition.”
But after five years of service, Magawa is now retiring.
APOPO announced this week that despite good health, the rat will end his service this month. He said it was becoming clear that he no longer possessed his old speed.
“Magawa’s performance was unbeatable and I was proud to work alongside him,” Malen told APOPO.
“He is small, but he has helped save many lives by enabling us to return much-needed safe land to our people as quickly and cheaply as possible. But he is slowing down and we need to respect his needs. I will miss working with him!”
As the most successful and famous HeroRAT to date, Magawa will be a role model for the next generations of rats for a long time to come.
“Magawa will stay for a few more weeks to mentor and acclimatise the new recruits before saying goodbye,” APOPO wrote.
Thank you Magawa for the incredible work you have done. You have saved countless lives. We wish you all the best in your retirement.