Magawa the mine-detecting rat wins PDSA Gold Medal

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Magawa won a gold medal for discovering mines in Cambodia

An African rat with a giant pouch was awarded a prestigious gold medal for its work in detecting landmines.

Magawa has sniffed 39 land mines and 28 unexploded ammunition in his career.

The British veterinary charity PDSA has awarded him the gold medal for “life-saving readiness to help locate and remove deadly landmines in Cambodia”.

It is believed that there are up to six million landmines in the Southeast Asian country.

The PDSA gold medal is labeled “For animal gallery or duty”. Of the 30 animal recipients of the award, Magawa is the first rat.

The seven-year-old rodent was trained by the Tanzania-based Belgian charity Apopo, which has been raising animals known as HeroRATs for the purpose of detecting landmines and tuberculosis since the 1990s. The animals are certified after one year of training.

“We are truly honored to receive this medal,” Christophe Cox, CEO of Apopo, told the Press Association. “But it’s also great for the people of Cambodia and all of the people around the world who are suffering from landmines.”

On Friday, PDSA will broadcast the award ceremony for Magawa on its website.

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According to Apopo, Magawa – born and raised in Tanzania – weighs 1.2 kg and is 70 cm long. While this is much larger than many other rat species, Magawa is still small enough and light enough that it won’t trigger mines if it walks over them.

The rats are trained to recognize a chemical compound in the explosives, meaning they ignore scrap metal and can search for mines more quickly. As soon as they find an explosive, they scratch the top to alert their human workers.

Magawa is able to search a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes – according to Apopo, it would take a person with a metal detector between one and four days.

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It takes the rats a year to become certified landmine detectors known as HeroRATs

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Magawa and his colleagues are working with the Cambodian Mine Action Center to discover unexploded ordnance in the country

He works only half an hour a day in the morning and is nearing retirement age, but PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said his work with Apopo was “really unique and outstanding”.

“Magawa’s work is directly saving and changing the lives of the men, women and children affected by these landmines,” she told the Press Association. “Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death to the local people.”

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According to the mine-clearing NGO HALO Trust, Cambodia has recorded more than 64,000 casualties and around 25,000 amputees due to landmines since 1979. Many were laid down during the Civil War of the 1970s and 1980s.

In January 2020, US President Donald Trump lifted restrictions on the use of US landmines and lifted a ban introduced by President Barack Obama in 2014.

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