Dar es Salaam. Magawa, the “hero rat” who died at the age of eight in Cambodia recently, has a successor who is as hardworking and focused as the departed rat, The Citizen has learnt.
Magawa, who was trained by Apopo, is credited for finding more than 100 landmines and other explosives during his service. This life-saving bravery won him a medal.
Apopo is a mine-clearing non-governmental organisation working in partnership with the Sokoine University of Agriculture (Sua).
Speaking to The Citizen yesterday, Apopo assistant communications officer Lilian Shalom said Magawa had found a successor shortly after retirement in June 2021. She said Magawa was succeeded by a three-year old pouched rat Ronin who was dispatched to Cambodia early last year. “The successor is hardworking and focused who cannot be distracted by anything,” she said during a telephone interview.
According to her, Ronin was sent to Cambodia after receiving internal accreditation and was internationally certified after confirming the 100 percent accuracy.
She said there were 40 Tanzania pouched rats in Cambodia who are working in landmines detection including Ronin.
“They have given significant contributions in reducing costs of the exercise and therefore serving lives to communities,” she said.
How Magawa got his name
Apopo training supervisor and animal welfare officer Pendo Msegu, who was the first Magawa trainer, said she was the one who gave the name to the bravery pouched rat.
Ms Msegu said she gave the name after her father’s friend who was hardworking and lovely.
“My father and a friend were religious leaders. But, I was attracted by Priest Magawa’s love and hardworking. When the pouched rat was given to me, I called him by the Priest Magawa’s name,” she said.
She said Priest Magawa now lives in Msingisi Village, Gairo District in the region. She said the name had no special meaning rather than honouring her father’s friend hardworking spirit that was properly emulated by the pouched rat through international achievements.
Magawa died “peacefully” this weekend at the age of eight, the Belgian charity Apopo, which trained him, said in a statement.
“All of us at Apopo are feeling the loss of Magawa and we are grateful for the incredible work he’s done,” the group said. Apopo said 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,” the charity said.
In September 2020, the rodent won the animal equivalent of Britain’s highest civilian honour for bravery because of his uncanny knack for uncovering land mines and unexploded ordnance.
Magawa was the first rat to receive a medal from British veterinary charity PDSA in the 77 years of the awards, joining an illustrious band of brave canines, felines - and even a pigeon.
Millions of land mines were laid in Cambodia during the country’s nearly three-decade of civil war which ended in 1998, causing tens of thousands of casualties.
APOPO trained Magawa to detect the chemical compounds in explosives by rewarding him with tasty treats -- his favourites being bananas and peanuts.
Magawa was able to cover an area equivalent to the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, something that would take four days using a conventional metal detector.
In its website, APOPO says Magawa has found over 100 landmines and other explosives, making him APOPO’s most successful HeroRAT to date.
“His contribution allows communities in Cambodia to live, work, and play; without fear of losing life or limbs,” reads the tribute.
According to the tribute, landmines are still inflicting pain and fear to a new generation in Cambodian, a generation that wasn’t even born when these mines were laid.
Clearing minefields is intense, difficult, dangerous work and demands accuracy and time which is where APOPO’s animal detection systems can increase efficiency and cut costs.
It is thanks to all of you that Magawa will leave a lasting legacy in the lives that he saved as a landmine detection rat in Cambodia.