Mine-detecting rat wins PDSA gold medal

Posted by Lucinda Dordley on 25 September 2020

A giant African pouched rat has been awarded a prestigious gold medal for his excellent work in detecting land mines.

Named Magawa, he has sniffed out 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions across the span of his career.

PDSA, a UK-based veterinary charity, presented him with a gold medal for his ‘life-saving devotion to duty, in the location and clearance of deadly landmines in Cambodia’.

The rat, which is 7-years-old, was trained by a Belgium-registered charity called Apopo based in Tanzania. The charity has been raising animals known as HeroRATS to detect landmines and tuberculosis since the 1990s. All animals are certified after a year of training.

‘To receive this medal is really an honour for us,’ Apopo chief executive Christophe Cox told the Press Association news agency. ‘But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines.’

Thirty animals have received the PDSA gold medal, and Magawa is the first rat to do so.

The rat, which was born and raised in Tanzania, weighs 1.2kg and is 70cm long. While he is large compared to other rats, he is still light enough not to trigger mines when sniffing them out.

The rats are trained to detect a chemical compound found in the explosives, meaning they ignore scrap metal and can search for mines more quickly. Once they find an explosive, they scratch the top to alert their human co-workers.

As Magawa is seven years old, he is nearing retirement age.

‘Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines,’ PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said. ‘Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.’

Feature image: Youtube/Screenshot

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