A hero of Cambodia is retiring at the age of 6. Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, has spent the last five years sniffing out landmines in the Southeast Asian country, which suffered a US onslaught, civil war, and Vietnamese invasion in the 1960s and '70s, clearing out more than 2.4 million square feet of land, per CNN. "Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down," according to APOPO, a charity that has been raising and delivering landmine-detecting rats, known as "HeroRATs," to various countries since the 1990s. Magawa, who turns 7 later this year, not only found 71 landmines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance, but was also the first non-canine in the 77-year history of British veterinary charity People's Dispensary for Sick Animals to be awarded its gold medal for bravery, per the BBC and the AP.
Rats like Magawa are small enough not to set off a landmine if they scurry over one. Trained to detect the scent of explosive chemicals, they scratch the ground to show handlers a potential explosive. In awarding him their medal, the PDSA said Magawa could clear an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, while a human with a metal detector could take up to four days to do the same. "Magawa's performance has been unbeaten, and I have been proud to work side-by-side with him," says his handler, Malen, per the BBC. "He has helped save many lives allowing us to return much-needed safe land back to our people as quickly and cost-effectively as possible." There are thought to be up to 6 million landmines in Cambodia. APOPO says Magawa will "mentor" a new batch of rats approved by the Cambodian Mine Action Center for a few weeks before leaving the field. (Read more rats stories.)