Magawa dies at 8: Heroic rat sniffed out land mines and helped save lives

The African giant pouched rat located over 100 land mines and explosives during his storied career in Cambodia.

Amanda Kooser
Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.

Magawa, the hero rat, received a medal for his good work in service of humanity.


Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Magawa, an African giant pouched rat trained to detect land mines, was famous for his skill. During his career, he located over 100 land mines and explosives in Cambodia, where the scars of past conflicts remain dangerously hidden in the ground. 

Nonprofit Apopo, which breeds and trains rats like Magawa, announced his death in a statement on Tuesday. He had turned 8 in November. "Magawa was in good health and spent most of last week playing with his usual enthusiasm, but towards the weekend he started to slow down, napping more and showing less interest in food in his last days," Apopo said.

Born in Tanzania, Magawa started his explosive-sniffing career in Cambodia in 2016 and retired in 2021. He was one of a group of rodents called HeroRats. Magawa was the most successful working rat in the program, earning a prestigious PDSA Gold Medal in 2020. He was the first rat to receive the honor, which recognizes animals for bravery and devotion to duty.

Magawa's legacy lives on as Apopo's rat program continues. "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," the group said. The intelligent animals, while large for rats, are light enough that they don't accidentally trigger the mines. 

According to the National Pouched Rat Society, the animals have a lifespan of up to eight years. Apopo said Magawa died peacefully.