Belgian mastermind behind gold-winning landmine rat Magawa


Who doesn't shudder at the thought of rats? Magawa, on the other hand, is highly valued within his species. He proudly poses with a gold medal for his hard work and animal bravery.

The turmoil from the mid-1970s to the end of the 1990s transformed parts of Cambodia's soil into a huge field of probably 4-6 million mines, resulting in some tens of thousands of victims and the highest number of amputations in the world. That horror in 1998 led a fellow countryman to the idea of training animals to detect landmines, other munitions of war and even tuberculosis in humans. This took concrete form in the establishment of the Belgian NGO APOPO, based in Tanzania and specialising in this type of work.

The African hamster rat is certainly not inferior to the dog. On the contrary. She is highly intelligent, has an excellent nose for TNT's chemical compounds within explosives and likes to perform repetitive tasks in exchange for food rewards. Weighing little, they also run less risk of causing the mines to explode. But Magawa stands out head and shoulders above that. For example, he has tracked down almost 70 items of war gear and scoured the equivalent of over 20 football pitches, faster and more efficiently than any metal detector.