Rat-ical hero: Landmine detection rat Magawa wins gold medal for life-saving work in Cambodia

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.

Magawa has so far discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance in his seven-year career.

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The gold medal is engraved with the words, "For animal gallantry or devotion to duty" and recognises "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.

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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, whose official job title is HeroRAT, have been trained to detect landmines. (Photo: PDSA)

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.

“On a daily basis, HeroRAT Magawas work is life-saving and life-changing and has a direct impact on the men, women and children in the communities in which he works,” the group added.

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