A landmine detection rat named Magawa has been awarded a gold medal for his “lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty” in Cambodia.
Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, has discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded artillery since he was trained by charity APOPO. He is the charity’s most successful Hero Rat, having cleared more than 141,000 square metres of land – that is equivalent to 20 football pitches. He is the first rat in the charity’s 77-year history to receive such an award.
Christophe Cox, chief executive of APOPO, mentioned: “To receive this medal is really an honour for us. Especially for our animal trainers who wake up every day, very early, to train these animals in the morning.”
“But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines. This award brings the problem of landmines to global attention”, he continued further.
He also said that rats are intelligent and will work at repetitive tasks for food rewards better than other animals. Their size means they are in lesser danger when they walk through landmine fields.
The rats are trained to detect a chemical compound within explosives and require a year of training before they are certified. They work for around half an hour a day, in the early morning. Once they detect a landmine, they scratch the top, which alerts their human handlers.
Magawa, who is now nearing retirement age, can search the area of a tennis court in 30 minutes, something that would take a human with a metal detector up to four days.
“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.” concluded PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin, who awarded the medal.
Source: The Guardian