The time has come to pour one out for Magawa the hero rat, please. This large lad “passed away peacefully” over the weekend at the age of 8, the BBC reports, having spent the majority of his life sniffing out bombs in Cambodia. Magawa’s “amazing sense of smell” helped him discover upward of 100 explosives, allowing “communities in Cambodia to live, work, and play; without fear of losing life or limb,” according to the Belgian Apopo charity that employed him. He was so good at his job that he won the PDSA Gold Medal — “for animal gallantry and devotion to duty” — in 2020, the only rat so far to claim the honor. Just a little side note for those of you who (rudely) assumed I was exaggerating about the hero thing.
Here he is enjoying a cornsnack in his prime:
Per the BBC, Magawa, a Gambian pouched rat, was born in Tanzania and trained for a year before moving to Cambodia, where as many as 6 million unexploded landmines linger from a decades-old conflict with Vietnam. Though large for a rat, generally speaking, Magawa “was still small enough and light enough that he did not trigger mines if he walked over them,” the BBC reports, and “capable of searching a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes — something Apopo says would take a person with a metal detector between one and four days.” He cleared over 1,517,711 square feet of land in his day, impressive by any measure.
Some questions I bet you still have:
• How big was he? Per the BBC, about 2.6 pounds, which is a little less than the three-pound species average, and actually pretty small when you consider that Gambian pouched rats can grow up to nine pounds. But please keep in mind it was his relatively diminutive size that allowed him to save all those lives. Also! He looked like a toy capybara — more than beefy enough for a rodent, I think we can agree.
• How big was his medal relative to his rat bod? To scale, judging by the BBC’s photos.
• What does “pouched” mean, in this context? That he, like all Gambian pouched rats, collected food by cramming it into his cheek pockets, bless him.
• Was the cause of death natural? Was foul play suspected? No: It appears Magawa died of old age. He reached roughly the upper lifespan limit for Gambian pouched rats — good for him — and retired last June when he began to show signs of “slowing down.” Still, Apopo said, he “spent most of last week playing with his usual enthusiasm,” just sleeping more and eating less in his final days.
RIP, rat king.