12th January 2022

Magawa, the famous mine-clearing rat, died today. Now there’s a headline I was not expecting. Apparently, in a 5 year career, the rodent sniffed out over 100 landmines and other explosives in Cambodia. It took a year of training by the charity Apopo before Magawa began his bomb sniffing role.

Although bigger than your usual rat, Magawa was still light enough to not trigger bombs when stood on. Well, that sounds good else it would have been a short career! Magawa was capable of searching a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes compared to between one to four days it would take a person.

Well in 2020 Magawa was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal Award, sometimes called the George Cross for animals, for his life-saving devotion to duty.

I wonder just who first had the idea that rats could be trained, let alone used, for such a purpose? It demonstrates the incredible imagination that some people possess. Although I also wonder what it says about us that we give out awards to creatures who had no choice about taking on such a dangerous task, in effect being sacrificed for the sake of human beings.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps the end goal of less human loss of life and limb justifies the use of the animal? Perhaps by giving it an award and recognition that makes up for the liberty taken. Maybe it is okay because finally a rat has a purpose and a positive role to play.

Magawa retired last June after slowing down due to old age. The mind boggles! Isn’t the world bonkers?

Rachel Haig