Landmine detection rat wins top UK animal bravery award

Updated September 26, 2020
PHNOM PENH: Magawa, an African giant pouched rat who received a prestigious gold medal for his work in detecting landmines in Cambodia.—AFP
PHNOM PENH: Magawa, an African giant pouched rat who received a prestigious gold medal for his work in detecting landmines in Cambodia.—AFP

Magawa, who was trained by the Belgian charity APOPO, has sniffed out 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance, making him the organisation’s most successful “HeroRAT”.

“The work of HeroRAT Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding,” said PDSA director-general Jan McLoughlin.

“HeroRAT Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines.” Millions of landmines were laid in Cambodia between 1975 and 1998, causing tens of thousands of casualties.

Magawa, based in the northern city of Siem Reap, is the first rat to receive a PDSA medal in the 77 years of the awards, joining an illustrious band of brave canines and felines — and even a pigeon.

The PDSA Gold Medal is the animal equivalent of Britain’s George Cross. The charity also awards the Dickin Medal, for military animals.

APOPO trained Magawa in his native Tanzania to detect the chemical compound within explosives by rewarding him with tasty treats — his favourite being bananas and peanuts. The rats alert de-miners by scratching the earth.

He can scurry across an area the size of a tennis court in just 30 minutes, something that would take four days using a conventional metal detector.

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