PHNOM PENH, Cambodia
(AP) — Magawa is retiring after five years of detecting land mines and unexploded ordnance in Cambodia.
The African giant pouched rat has been the most successful rodent trained and supervised by APOPO, a Belgian nonprofit, to detect land mines and alert its human handlers so the explosives can be safely removed.
According to APOPO, Magawa has cleared more than 141,000 square meters (1.5 million square feet) of land, roughly the size of 20 soccer
fields, while sniffing out 71 land mines and 38 unexploded ordnance.
Last year, it received a top civilian award for animal bravery from a British charity
for the first time, an honor previously reserved solely for dogs
“Although he is still in good health
, he has reached retirement age and is clearly beginning to slow down,” APOPO explained.
While many rodents can be trained to detect scents and will perform repetitive tasks for food
rewards, APOPO determined that African giant pouched rats were best suited to land mine clearance because their size allows them to walk across minefields without triggering the explosives – and do so much faster than people
– and they can live up to eight years.
Magawa was born in Tanzania in 2014 and moved to Cambodia's northwestern city of Siem Reap, home of the famed Angkor temples, to begin his bomb-sniffing career in 2016.
APOPO also collaborates with programs in Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to demine millions of landmines left over from wars and conflicts.
Landmines and unexploded ordinance continue to endanger more than 60 million people in 59 countries, according to the group, which claims that in 2018, landmines and other war remnants killed or injured 6,897 people.