Superhero rat Magawa gets gold medal for sniffing out explosives

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APOPO trains the rats to sniff for traces of landmine explosives at its facility. Every year landmines kill or maim thousands of people worldwide.
APOPO trains the rats to sniff for traces of landmine explosives at its facility. Every year landmines kill or maim thousands of people worldwide.
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images

It's all in a day's work for a superhero rat in Cambodia that's been given an award for saving lives.

Magawa the rat has been called a hero and awarded a prestigious gold medal for his work.

He earned a gold medal from the British veterinary charity People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) for his work detecting undetonated landmines in Cambodia.

It takes a year of training for rats to become certified land mine detectors, known as HeroRATs.

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According to CNN, Magawa was trained by non-governmental organization APOPO which in Dutch stands for "Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling" or in English, Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development.

APOPO, founded in Belgium but headquartered in Tanzania, trains rats like Magawa to detect the scent of the explosive chemicals used in landmines and point them out to their handlers.

According to PDSA, since the 1970s an estimated amount four to six million landmines were laid in Cambodia alone with around three million of those still unfound. These hidden mines have sadly caused 64,000 casualties and it is here that Magawa lives and works.

APOPO chief executive Christophe Cox said that receiving the medal is an honour and recognition for the work they are doing to saves lives. 

"To receive this medal is really an honour for us, but also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines," he told the Press Association news agency. 

BBC reports that Magawa has sniffed out 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions in his career.

The PDSA has presented him with its Gold Medal for "life-saving devotion to duty, in the location and clearance of deadly landmines in Cambodia". 

Speaking at a virtual handing over of the award, PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said that Magawa's work was outstanding and truly unique.

"Magawa is a hero rat. We're thrilled to celebrate his life-saving devotion by awarding him the PDSA gold medal.

"Magawa's work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines," she told the Press Association.

"Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people." 

Magawa is capable of searching a field the size of a tennis court in just 20 minutes - something Apopo says would take a person with a metal detector between one and four days.

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In 2019, the South China Morning Post published a short video detailing the work the rats do powered by APOPO. 

"In Cambodia, more than 19,000 people have been killed by landmines left over from conflict. Now, specially trained rats are sniffing them out as part of a life-saving programme by APOPO", the video caption read. - Compiled by Bandile Ntshingila

Watch the video below: 

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