Landmine-Detecting Rat Awarded Tiny Gold Medal For His ‘Life-Saving Bravery’
Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, has been awarded a tiny gold medal for ‘life-saving bravery and devotion’ to finding landmines in Cambodia.
The PDSA, a UK veterinary charity, has awarded its gold medal to 30 creatures for ‘animal gallantry or devotion to duty’. After sniffing out 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions across his career, Magawa is the first rat to receive the award in its 77-year history.
Having been trained by animal nonprofit APOPO, he’s the charity’s most successful Hero Rat, having cleared 141,000 square metres of land – the equivalent of 20 football pitches. As such, he’s well-deserving of the medal, said to be the ‘the animal equivalent of the George Cross’.
Check out Magawa in action in the video below:
Christophe Cox, chief executive of APOPO, said: ‘To receive this medal is really an honour for us. I have been working with APOPO for over 20 years.’
Especially for our animal trainers who are waking up every day, very early, to train those animals in the morning. But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines. The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of landmines to global attention.
Seven-year-old Magawa, who’s now nearing retirement age, can search a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes, a feat which would take a mere human anywhere between one and four days. While he weighs 1.2kg and is far larger than standard rats, he’s still light enough to not trigger the landmines.
Cox explained that rats are intelligent and more adept at repetitive tasks for food rewards than other animals. They’re taught to detect a chemical compound within explosives – at which point, they scratch the top to alert their human handlers – and require a year of training before they’re certified. However, they only work for half an hour each day, early in the morning.
Jan McLoughlin, PDSA director general, said: ‘The work of Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding. Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.’
According to McLoughlin, between four and six million landmines were laid in Cambodia between 1975 and 1998. As a result, the country has reportedly recorded more than 64,000 casualties and 25,000 amputees.
She added: ‘The PDSA Animal Awards programme seeks to raise the status of animals in society and honour the incredible contribution they make to our lives. Magawa’s dedication, skill and bravery are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition. We are thrilled to award him the PDSA Gold Medal.’
A virtual presentation for Magawa is set to take place today, September 25.
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