APOPO announced today that HeroRAT Magawa will retire this month.

Siem Reap, Cambodia.

During his illustrious five-year career, HeroRAT Magawa’s work has directly saved the lives of men, women and children who were impacted by hidden landmines and other deadly remnants of war. Every discovery he made reduced the risk of injury or death for the people of Cambodia. Magawa is an African giant pouched rat that was born in Tanzania in November 2013. Since 2000, APOPO has developed its operational headquarters, training and breeding center at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) where all the landmine detection rats are born and trained. This is also home to APOPO’s Innovation department that researches and develops the innovative applications and advanced techniques used in existing operations. This is where he learned how to find explosives using his amazing sense of smell. Magawa then moved to Siem Reap in Cambodia in 2016, where he began his successful career.

To date he has found 71 landmines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance, making him APOPO’s most successful HeroRAT. Over the past five years he has helped clear over 225,000 square metres of land, allowing local communities to live, work, play and be educated; without fear of losing life or limb.

Last September, veteran Magawa was formally presented with a suitably rat-sized PDSA Gold Medal – the animal equivalent of the George Cross – by the PDSA’s Director General Jan McLoughlin. He is the first rat in the charity’s 77-year history of honouring animals to receive a PDSA Medal – joining a line-up of brave dogs, horses, pigeons and a cat.

Over 60 million people living in 59 countries from Cambodia to Zimbabwe, do so in daily fear of landmines and other remnants of past conflict. Landmines are still inflicting pain and fear to a new generation of Cambodian people, a generation that wasn’t even born when these mines were laid. Clearing minefields is intense, difficult, dangerous work and demands accuracy and time. This is where APOPO’s animal detection systems can increase efficiency and cut costs.

APOPO’s Cambodia program began in 2014 and now clears more land each year than any other APOPO program. In 2020 alone, APOPO Cambodia cleared 4,389,935 m2. This would not have been possible without the help of little heroes like Magawa.

Last week was an exciting week for APOPO. A group of 20 newly trained landmine detection rats that arrived in Cambodia in March, were tested by the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) and passed with flying colors. All the new recruits went through a period of acclimatization and retraining with their new Cambodian handlers. Now that they have received their external accreditation, they have been cleared to join team Magawa on the minefields!

Our new squad of HeroRATs arrive at an opportune time, following the expansion of the APOPO Cambodia landmine clearance program, and as veterans like Magawa reach retirement. The additional HeroRATs will help boost the daily square meter coverage and clearance, which allows APOPO to help get local communities back on their land as quickly as possible. Magawa will stay for a few more weeks to mentor and settle the new recruits before he takes a bow. Magawa will certainly make the best mentor a HeroRAT could have, during the new recruits’ first few weeks of work!

Malen, Magawa’s handler, said: “Magawa’s performance has been unbeaten, and I have been proud to work side-by-side with him. He is small but he has helped save many lives allowing us to returns much-needed safe land back to our people as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. But he is slowing down, and we need to respect his needs. I will miss working with him!

How can you help?

1. Pay tribute to the APOPO teams who show extraordinary bravery in their mine clearance work and share this story. 
APOPO copyright photos to support your article can be found here.
Archive video footage of Magawa receiving his medal can be found here (© PDSA).
General video footage can be found here  (© APOPO).

2. Join us and show support and solidarity with all those affected by landmines, and those working towards a Landmine Free 2025. Help us raise three months’ demining costs in three weeks! We’re a non-profit and every bit helps.

Photo credits © (top) Simon Guillemin, (middle) PDSA, (last) APOPO

APOPO MA Cambodia is most grateful to its donors and partners who are
instrumental to the success of our landmine clearance program.