Gambian pouched rats are the perfect land mine-detection specialists. Weighing at just three pounds, these rats have an excellent sense of smell, which helps them detect the presence of explosive material in the ground. They’ve been crucial to the success of the work led by APOPO, an organization that trains animals to sniff out land mines (and tuberculosis). The rats are also very curious, intelligent, and outgoing — the ideal creature that humans can partner with.

A single APOPO rat can have a sizable impact. In January, the organization mourned the loss of Magawa, who died from natural causes a few months after his eighth birthday. Stationed in Cambodia, Magawa found over 100 land mines and other explosives during his career, making him APOPO’s most effective rat to date, Shallom says.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.