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Hero rat who hunts landmines dies in Cambodia after great career

A landmine-hunting rat who was awarded a gold medal for heroism clearing ammunition from rural Cambodia has died.

Magawa, a giant African rat native to Tanzania, helped clear mines on approximately 225,000 square meters of land – the equivalent of 42 football fields – over the course of his career.

After detecting more than 100 landmines and other explosives, Magawa retired in June last year.

Magawa passed away “peacefully” this weekend at the age of eight, said the Belgian charity Apopo, which trained him.

“We all feel at Apopo the loss of Magawa and we are grateful for the incredible work he has done,” the group said.

Apopo said Magawa was in good health and played with his usual enthusiasm for most of the past week.

But by the weekend “he started to slow down, nap more and show less interest in eating in his last days,” the charity said.

Apopo has trained Magawa to detect the chemical compounds in explosives by rewarding him with tasty treats – his favorites are bananas and peanuts.

He would warn deminers by scratching the earth after using “his amazing sense of smell”.

Magawa was able to cover an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, something that would take four days with a conventional metal detector.

In September 2020, the rodent won the animal equivalent of Britain’s highest civilian honor for bravery for its uncanny knack for uncovering land mines and unexploded ordnance.

An African giant rat in a pouch sniffs for traces of landmine explosives at Apopo’s training facility in Morogoro, Tanzania. Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Magawa was the first rat to receive a medal from the British veterinary charity PDSA in the 77 years of the awards, joining an illustrious group of brave dogs, cats and even a pigeon.

Millions of land mines were laid in Cambodia during the nearly three-decade civil war that ended in 1998, killing tens of thousands.

Three Cambodian deminers were killed Monday by anti-tank landmines that exploded while trying to clear them, just 20 minutes after a man burning vegetation on his farm was killed by war munitions in the same village.