‘Lifesaving Bravery’: A Landmine Detection Rat Awarded Minature Gold Medal

Hero landmine detection rat is the first in the world to receive a PDSA Gold Medal for his life-saving work in Cambodia:

The watermelon-loving rodent, whose official job title is ‘HeroRAT’, walks along the ground detecting landmines and he’s been on the job for seven years.

Since the 1970s, it’s estimated four to six million landmines were laid in Cambodia, with around three million of those still unfound.

These hidden mines have caused 64,000 casualties – and it’s in this area that Magawa lives and works.

Magawa is an African Giant Pouched Rat – so much larger than your average pet rat – but still light enough that he would never set off a landmine by walking over it.

Magawa. Credit: PDSA
Magawa. Credit: PDSA

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.

Magawa began training from a young age after being bred by APOPO for the purpose of detecting mines.

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. He went on to pass all of his tests with flying colours and the life-saving began.

Magawa has been detecting landmines for the past seven years. He completely ignores any scrap metal lying around and so is much faster at finding landmines than people would be.

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.

Credit: PDSA
Credit: PDSA

When Magawa detects a landmine by the chemicals used in it, he signals the location to his handler – and they trust his accuracy because his sense of smell is so good. The mine can then be disposed of.

The HeroRAT’s work really is life-saving and life-changing and has a direct impact on the men, women and children in the communities in which he works.

The reality is that for every landmine or unexploded remnant he finds, he eradicates the risk of death or serious injury in locations already suffering significant hardship.

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.

During his career he has helped clear over 141,000 square metres of land (the equivalent of twenty football pitches), and his work doesn’t stop now.

He will continue to make Cambodia safe until he retires – then he’ll spend his time playing and relaxing.

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