During his service, the African giant rat found 71 antipersonnel mines and 38 unexploded ordnance, according to APOPO, the non-governmental demining organization that trained him.
But APOPO said the revered rodent, which turns seven years later this year, “has worked hard and deserves to relax now.”
“Although he is still in good health, he has reached retirement age and is apparently starting to slow down,” APOPO said. “It is time.”
His work has helped the organization clear more than 225,000 square meters of land in Cambodia, where decades of conflict have left the landscape littered with dangerous unexploded ordnance.
Magawa is larger than a normal domestic rat, but still light enough not to start a mine by passing through it the way mines could handle it. This advantage prompted APOPO to train him and other rats to detect the odor of explosive chemicals used in antipersonnel mines and direct them to their handlers.
The group praised Magawa for “allowing local communities to live, work, play and educate; without fear of losing a life or limb. ‘
African giant rats are intelligent and easy to train; Magawa started training at an early age and “passed all his flying color tests” before being sent to Cambodia, the PDSA said when presented with their medal.
He is trained to ignore scrap metal and alerts his supervisor when he finds the exact location of a landmine. He is so quick to find antipersonnel mines that he can clear an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes – something that could take a person four days using a metal detector, PDSA said.
During the Vietnam War, many countries dropped unexploded ordnance in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
Then, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the ensuing civil war and the Vietnamese invasion saw more landmines in the Southeast Asian country.
APOPO said it cleared 4.3 million square meters of land last year in Cambodia alone, which “would not have been possible without the help of little heroes like Magawa.” The organization operates in 59 countries.
CNN’s Jesse Yong contributed reports.