An African giant pouched rat named Magawa has been awarded a gold medal by a UK veterinary charity for his “life-saving” work in Cambodia where he detects landmines. Manawa has so far discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance in his seven-year career.
The gold medal is engraved with the words, For animal gallantry or devotion to duty and recognizes animal bravery and exceptional devotion to duty, said charity group PDSA.
Rats like Magawa, whose official job title is HeroRAT, have been trained to detect landmines.
There are an estimated 80 million landmines around the world which are lying active and unknown, said PDSA. In Cambodia alone, since the 1970s, about 4 to 6 million landmines were laid, with about 3 million still undiscovered.
According to PDSA, these hidden mines have caused 64,000 casualties. Cambodia has the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world, with more than 40,000 people.
“Cambodia's people work and live with the threat of injury and death every single day,” PDSA said. This is where rodents like Magawa can help. Magawa can safely detect landmines and is light enough to walk over one without setting it, said PDSA.
Magawa began training from a young age after being bred by a charity group in Tanzania, APOPO, for the purpose of detecting these explosive devices.
He was trained using a clicker when he approached an object with the scent of the explosive chemicals used in landmines. He would then be rewarded with treats.
Magawa can search the area of a tennis court in 30 minutes – something that would have taken a human with a metal detector up to four days, PDSA said.
When he detects a landmine, Magawa would signal to his handler. During his career, he has helped clear more than 141,000 sq m of land, the equivalent of 20 football fields, PDSA said.
“HeroRAT Magawa will carry on making Cambodia safe until he retires to his ‘home cage’.” Magawa is the only rat among the 30 animal recipients of the PDSA gold medal - the rest are dogs.