LONDON – They get a bad rap, especially for being dirty.
But a rat redeemed its species on Friday and became the first rodent to receive a gold medal for its work in spying out unexploded land mines and saving countless lives in Cambodia.
MagawaA so-called “hero rat” was awarded a little blue collar and a mini gold medal on Friday by the British veterinary charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).
“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of the men, women and children affected by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people,” said PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin in an explanation.
“We are very happy to award him the PDSA gold medal.”
The African giant rat was trained to track down land mines by Belgian charities APOPO.
With an excellent sense of smell and memory, Magawa has detected 39 land mines and 28 unexploded ordnance and can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, which would take a human with a metal detector up to four days. said the charity.
“Unlike metal detectors, rats ignore scrap metal and just sniff out explosives, which makes them fast and efficient landmine detectors,” said Christophe Cox, executive director of APOPO, the nonprofit that trained Magawa. It also trains the creatures to recognize tuberculosis.
“Not only does this save lives, but it gives much-needed safe land back to communities as quickly and cheaply as possible,” added Cox.
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It takes about nine months to train rats like Magawa, APOPO said, adding that they can live up to eight years. The creatures are light-footed, so don’t put the landmines down and no rats have been injured during the operations.
The wet Magawa was officially awarded its miniature medal in a virtual ceremony from London on Friday, making it the first rat in the PDSA’s 77-year history to receive this award. Past winners are police dogs, horses, pigeons and a cat.
An estimated 5 million landmines were laid in Cambodia during internal conflicts in the Southeast Asian country between 1975 and 1998, mainly in the northern region along the Thai border. This made agricultural land unsafe for agriculture and impacted communities and livelihoods.
The British Princess Diana raised the global profile of landmines in a campaign in the South African nation of Angola in 1997 when she stepped through a living minefield. Last year her son Prince Harry followed in his late mother’s footsteps and attended the same Angolan community that is now landmine-free after their work.