"HeroRAT" Magawa Receives A Gold Medal For His Incredible Life-Saving Bravery

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Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, received a PDSA gold medal for his superior landmine exploding skills (Credit: Apopo.org)

A rat may seem like an unlikely candidate to receive a gold medal for bravery and devotion to duty. However, six-year-old African giant pouched rat Magawa, who was honored with British Veterinary Charity PDSA's highest animal award on September 25, 2020, is no ordinary rodent. Over the past five years, the "HeroRAT" has saved hundreds of lives by detecting 39 landmines and 28 unexploded items in Cambodia.

"This is the very first time in our 77-year history of honoring animals that we will have presented a medal to a rat," PDSA Chair John Smith said during the virtual award-presentation ceremony on Friday.

Magawa is one of hundreds of HeroRATs that have been trained to detect landmines by Belgium-based animal charity APOPO since the 1990s. The non-profit, which teaches the animals by rewarding them with tasty food morsels each time they accomplish a task, says the intelligent rodents are ideal for the dangerous job. They are easy to train, and more importantly, light enough not to set off the hidden explosives even if they mistakenly walk over them. The rats, which use their superior sniffing skills to identify the chemicals in landmines, are also more efficient at the job than human-held metal detectors that beep at every scrap of metal.

Magawa is one of hundred HeroRATs trained by Belgian charity APOPO to detect landmines and other hidden explosives (Credit: PDSA.org)

Though all APOPO rodent "graduates" excel at their "jobs," Magawa, who has been working in Siem Reap , Cambodia, since 2016, is the charity's most successful HeroRAT. In addition to being accurate, the mammal is exceptionally efficient at his job and can sniff out an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes. This task would take a human with a metal detector up to four days! Over the past four years, the mighty rodent has helped clear over 141,000 square meters (35 acres) of land, or the equivalent of twenty football pitches. His efforts have allowed local communities to live, work, and play without fear of losing life or limb.

Landmines are concealed devices designed to detonate by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person or vehicle. They were first used in World War II to protect strategic areas such as borders, camps, or important bridges, and to restrict the movement of opposing forces. Since then, they have been deployed in numerous conflicts, including in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the first Gulf War.

Magawa is APOPO's most successful HeroRAT to date (Credit: PDSA.org))

While the location of each device around the world was carefully marked and mapped during the early years, things became a little lax as the practice continued, making it impossible to remove the explosives once the conflict had ended. Today, over 60 million people living in 59 countries — from Angola to Cambodia — live in daily fear of landmines and other remnants of past wars. Hopefully, with brave detection rodents like Magawa hard at work, the threats will soon be removed.

Resources: www.pdsa.org.uk, www.apopo.org

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244 Comments
  • kcloveballet
    kcloveballetFriday, October 23, 2020 at 1:33 pm
    I love rats!!!
    • stronger
      strongerFriday, October 23, 2020 at 7:35 am
      I'm missing out forever though I'm going through a bit new things like my last two weeks.
      • babybomer
        babybomerFriday, October 23, 2020 at 7:24 am
        Magwa is so cute!💙💙💙💙💙
        • serenejsmooth
          serenejsmoothFriday, October 23, 2020 at 7:24 am
          Live forever magawa!
          • serenejsmooth
            serenejsmoothFriday, October 23, 2020 at 7:22 am
            Rats are my favorite animal and this just made me love them even more
            • somanydogesa
              somanydogesaThursday, October 22, 2020 at 7:07 am
              how much do you guys want to bet this rat is more independant than me
              • dogo_maniac
                dogo_maniacThursday, October 22, 2020 at 2:18 pm
                XD he is probaly beating you by... a lot
              • harrypfangirl
                harrypfangirlWednesday, October 21, 2020 at 6:26 am
                Wow! I never used to like rats but this article made me change my mind!!!
                • minecraft10
                  minecraft10Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at 12:56 pm
                  I hate rats except this rat
                  • iiaxstrell
                    iiaxstrellTuesday, October 20, 2020 at 9:03 am
                    I love rats!!!!!
                    • goodgirlheaven
                      goodgirlheavenTuesday, October 20, 2020 at 7:22 am
                      i love this article this is one of my favorite now