"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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270 Comments
  • kitty_202
    kitty_202Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 11:38 am
    Rats are cool when they don't bite on your house
    • unitri
      unitriTuesday, November 10, 2020 at 9:35 am
      This is so cool!
      • andray
        andrayMonday, November 9, 2020 at 11:17 am
        cool
        • coookie110209
          coookie110209Monday, November 9, 2020 at 5:27 am
          I bet he will win more metals than i will in my whole life!
        • sportykid50
          sportykid50Sunday, November 8, 2020 at 4:34 pm
          Rats are cute but not when you catch them eating your food
          • tigerlil92
            tigerlil92Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 11:10 am
            YOUR absolutely right!!!
          • archiebum
            archiebumSunday, November 8, 2020 at 7:31 am
            this rat is so cool he won a gold medle
            • archiebum
              archiebumSunday, November 8, 2020 at 12:45 am
              That rat is so cool
              • roselover22
                roselover22Thursday, November 5, 2020 at 10:16 am
                Soooo cool! Rats are very smart
                • turtle1o
                  turtle1oTuesday, November 3, 2020 at 3:48 pm
                  Wow just Wow That is Crazy
                  • deathly_hallows
                    deathly_hallowsTuesday, November 3, 2020 at 8:50 am
                    so cute