Magawa, the rat that sniffs out land mines, honored for bravery

Magawa, the rat that sniffs out land mines, honored for bravery
Magawa, a 5-year-old African giant pouched rat, was awarded for his ability to sniff out land mines in Cambodia. (PDSA, via Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Rats usually get a bad rap as vermin that can spread disease as they scurry through alleys and down sewers while foraging through garbage.

A rat in Cambodia has changed that perception somewhat and is being hailed as a mighty mouse.

Magawa, a 5-year-old African giant pouched rat, was recognized on Friday with an award for sniffing out mines and explosives, The New York Times reported. The PDSA Gold Medal from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, the United Kingdom’s leading veterinary charity, was given to Magawa for “life-saving bravery and devotion to duty.” While dogs and other animals have received the award, Magawa is the first rat to be honored, according to HuffPost.

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Magawa has discovered 39 land mines and 28 pieces of unexploded material, and has helped clear more than 1.5 million square feet of land over the past four years, the Times reported.

“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these land mines,” Jan McLoughlin, the director-general of PDSA, said during an online ceremony. “Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.”

Magawa was born in a Tanzania breeding colony in 2014, HuffPost reported. He was trained by APOPO, a charity that specializes in teaching animals to detect landmines and tuberculosis by scent.

According to APOPO CEO and co-founder Christophe Cox, rats are suited to finding land mines because of their keen sense of smell. They are also light enough to step over mines without setting them off.

“Rats are fast and they can screen an area of 200 square meters in half an hour, something which would take a manual deminer four days,” Cox said in a video PDSA produced that described Magawa’s achievements.

Magawa’s abilities are needed in Cambodia, where more than 5 million land mines are believed to have been laid in the country during internal conflicts during the 1980s and 1990s, the Times reported.

According to a 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service, parts of Cambodia are also littered with unexploded ordnance dropped during the Vietnam War by American military units, the Times reported.found.

More than 64,000 people have been injured by land mines and other explosives in Cambodia, the newspaper reported.