Magawa, Hero Rat:  R.I.P.

By Shlomo Maital   

Magawa, the hero rat of Cambodia, retires after five years of detecting  landmines | Esquire Middle East

“Magawa” in action

 Consider these facts:  There are 110 million land mines in 78 countries, unexploded and dangerous. They kill or maim 15,000-20,000 people yearly.

   And it is very hard and expensive to find and clear them. 

   Cambodia suffers most.   “An estimated 5 million land mines were laid in Cambodia during a civil war in the Southeast Asian country from 1975 to 1998, mainly in the northern region along the Thai border — leaving agricultural land unsafe to farm and impacting communities and livelihoods. More than 386 square miles of land are still contaminated. Since 1979, more than 64,000 people have been injured or killed from mines and explosive war remnants.”    

    And more mines are laid daily.

  There are 164 states who ratified the 1997 treaty banning mines.    States not party to the Mine Ban Treaty include: China, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.

    Shame on them.  Those rats! 

    Ooops.  Sorry, Magawa.  You rate much higher than those nations.  You were part of the solution.

     NBC reports that “‘Hero rat’ renowned for record-breaking Cambodia land mine detection has died.   Magawa’s legacy “will live on for decades to come in the lives he has helped to save,” said Rebecca Buckingham of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals.

    “He was dubbed a “hero rat” after he sniffed out more than 100 land mines and other explosives in Cambodia.  But after a short retirement, Magawa died Sunday, according to the Belgium-based charity APOPO, which trained him in Tanzania before assigning him to the Southeast Asian country in 2016.

    “The African giant pouched rat was physically strong, so every day he searched more land than other rats, and found more mines than others,” Michael Heiman, APOPO’s Cambodia program manager, told NBC News on a phone call Wednesday.

    “Because the handlers loved him so much, they utilized him more than others, which is also a factor in why he found so many items,” he added.

   “Announcing the rat’s retirement in June last year, APOPO said in a news release that Magawa had found 71 land mines and 38 unexploded ordnances, making him the “most successful” mine-clearing rat. Over his five-year career, he helped to clear more than 225,000 square feet of land, it added.”  

    “The rats are light enough not to set off the mines, they are taught to ignore scrap metal and only sniff out explosives.  They take around nine months to train.   Cambodia has among the highest number of amputees per capita, with more than 40,000 people having lost limbs to explosives.

– – – – –

   There is a theological argument focused on “why did God create mosquitos”?  Those pesky zmmmming insects that carry disease and bite.  I don’t know why. But maybe we now know why we have African giant pouched rats. 

     Rest in peace, Magawa.  If there is a rat heaven, hope you are munching lots of smelly cheese.  And, well done, creative Belgians!