A rat has for the first time won a British charity’s top civilian award for animal bravery, receiving the honor for searching out unexploded landmines in Cambodia.
Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, was awarded the PDSA’s Gold Medal for his “lifesaving bravery and devotion” after discovering 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordinance in the past seven years, according to the charity.
First known as the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, PDSA started as a free veterinary clinic in 1917 and has honored heroic animals since 1943.
Magawa was trained by a Belgian organization that has taught rats to find landmines for more than 20 years. The group, APOPO, works with programs in Cambodia, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to clear millions of mines left behind from wars and conflicts.
Magawa is the group’s most successful rat, having cleared more than 141,000 square meters of land, the equivalent of some 20 soccer fields.
APOPO chief executive Christophe Cox described Magawa’s medal as a huge honor “for our animal trainers.”
“But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines,” Cox said. “The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of landmines to global attention.”
Giant African pouched rats are used to detect landmines because of their intelligence, size, and lifespan of 8 years. Their size allows them to walk across mine fields without triggering the explosives – and do it much more quickly than people.