Magawa the mine-detecting rat wins PDSA Gold Medal

Life-saving’ Magawa the giant African pouched rat is trained to sniff out landmines

Magawa is a Tanzanian-born African giant pouched rat who has been trained by the nonprofit APOPO to sniff out explosives.

Magawa has discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance to date, making him the charity's most successful HeroRAT and a more than worthy candidate for the PDSA Gold Medal.

Cambodia has spent years slowly clearing the land of explosives, but it's risky work.

'The PDSA Animal Awards programme seeks to raise the status of animals in society and honour the incredible contribution they make to our lives.

According to the PDSA, it's safe for HeroRATs like Magawa to detect landmines, and they're very intelligent animals so are easy to train.

But one rat redeemed his species on Friday becoming the first rodent to receive a gold medal for his work in sniffing out unexploded landmines and saving countless lives in Cambodia. The medal is the U.K.'s animal equivalent of the George Cross, the highest honour for recognizing heroism. Previous honorees have included dogs, pigeons, horses and a cat.

"Magawa is a hero rat".

Christophe Cox, chief executive of APOPO, told the PA news agency that the medal was "really an honour" for the charity, where he has worked for over 20 years.

APOPO, which has 45 rats on its books detecting landmines and 31 detecting tuberculosis in humans, then starts training the animals to associate the sound of a click with food at only 10 weeks old.

He was trained using a clicker (and lots of tasty rewards) when he got near to something with the scent of the explosive chemicals used in landmines.

The rodents are clever and light enough to avoid triggering landmines, though they might trigger a heart attack if you caught them in your own home.

Buried explosives have killed almost 20,000 people and injured 45,000 more in Cambodia over the last four decades, according to the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority.

More than five million landmines are thought to have been buried in Cambodia during conflicts in the 1980s and '90s.

He 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 also knows to disregard scrap metal along the way, according to APOPO.

Magawa went through extensive training to enable it detect landmines. Magawa is close to retiring from his heroic work.

Magawa can look forward to a retirement filled with playtime, peanuts and relaxation, the PDSA says.

"But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines", he added.

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