Magawa, The Medal-Winning, Landmine-Detecting Hero Rat, Has Died Aged Eight

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear tiny harnesses. Image credit: © PDSA/APOPO

The world has lost a leading name in landmine detection and disposal as it was announced that Magawa passed away peacefully at the grand old age of eight years old: not bad for an African giant pouched rat (Cricetomys ansorgei). Having located over 100 landmines and other explosives during his career, Magawa will live on through his achievements, which earned him the PDSA Gold Medal – the highest award for gallantry an animal can receive – in 2020.

Maligned by many, rats get a bad rap across much of the globe but Magawa’s home, APOPO, has long celebrated the potential of these intelligent rodents. Training scent detection rats and dogs – nicknamed “HeroRATs” and “HeroDOGs” – APOPO’s goal is to eradicate landmines in Cambodia and detect tuberculosis so that affected land and communities can be made safer places.

Among their many valiant rats was Magawa, an animal who shot to international fame after becoming the first rat ever to receive the PDSA gold medal for his contributions, making him the poster rate for landmine detection. After a prosperous career, he hung up his mine-detecting boots in 2021 (with quite the retirement party) and continued to play with high spirits into his golden years.

After recently celebrating his eighth birthday, a respectable age for an African pouched rat, APOPO reports he began to slow down in the lead up to his passing. In the wake of his death, they reflect upon the life of their most successful HeroRAT to date.

“His contribution allows communities in Cambodia to live, work, and play; without fear of losing life or limb,” APOPO said in a statement. “Every discovery he made reduced the risk of injury or death for the people of Cambodia.”

APOPO trains rats to detect landmines using their keen sense of smell. Their goal: to safeguard over 60 million people in countries from Cambodia to Zimbabwe who live among the remnants of past conflicts. With the help of brave rats like Magawa, APOPO has been able to clear land so that it may be used by future generations free from fear. They rely on donations and adoptions to carry out their work, which you can find out more about here.

“It is thanks to all of you that Magawa will leave a lasting legacy in the lives that he saved as a landmine detection rat in Cambodia,” said APOPO.

RIP Magawa, you little legend you.

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