An African giant pouched rat named Magawa has been awarded a gold medal for ‘life-saving bravery’ for his work of detecting dangerous land mines. The rat was born in Tanzania and has shown its skill in successfully detecting land mines in Cambodia.
So far, Magawa has found 39 land mines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance, according to a global nonprofit, Apopo. Apopo breeds and trains rats for humanitarian work such as sniffing out land mines and tuberculosis and is based in Belgium.
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Magawa is Apopo’s most successful working rat, or ‘Hero Rat,’ ever. He is also the first rat in UK animal charity 77-year history to win a PDSA Gold Medal. Animals like dogs, horses, a pigeon, and a cat, all of whom have shown gallantry, usually in protecting their human companions have all won the Medal.
“Apopo’s HeroRats significantly speed up land mine detection using their amazing sense of smell and excellent memory. We use clicker training to teach rats like Magawa to scratch at the ground above a land mine,” Apopo CEO and co-founder Christophe Cox explains.
“Rats are fast. They can screen an area of 200 square meters in half an hour, something which would take a manual deminer four days,” Cox says. He says rats are too light to trigger a mine, so they haven’t had accidents with the rat.
Cambodia estimates that between 4 million and 6 million land mines were laid in the country between 1975 and 1998. The mines have caused over 64,000 casualties.
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