Landmine Detection Rat from Africa Awarded Animals’ George Cross


The African Giant-Pouched Rat was trained to detect landmines by Belgium-based charity APOPO.

Magawa, a pouched rat, who has sniffed out 39 landmines and 28 unexploded items of ordnance, has been awarded with a Gold Medal award by United Kingdom based veterinary charity PDSA, for his stellar contribution.

A rat has for the first time won a British charity's top civilian award for animal bravery, receiving the honor for searching out unexploded landmines in Cambodia. The medal has been awarded to 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, four horses and one cat since it was created in 1943. Last year, her son Prince Harry walked in his late mother's footsteps, visiting the same Angolan community that is now free of landmines following her work.

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.

APOPO also trains rats to detect tuberculosis.

Magwa the Hero rat on duty (credit PDSA  PA
Magwa the Hero rat on duty (credit PDSA PA

"We're thrilled to celebrate his life-saving devotion by awarding him the PDSA gold medal", PDSA's Director General Jan McLouglin said in a virtual presentation of the medal, which was specially created to fit on Magawa's work harness.

Apopo's role in Cambodia is vital where up to six million mines were laid between 1975 and 1998 causing 64,000 casualties. "The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of landmines to global attention". Cambodia has the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world, with more than 40,000 people suffering as a result of the mines.

Magawa's medal is perfectly rat-sized, and fits onto his work harness.

Cox says the rats hone their skills in a training field, and are only cleared to begin work once they have flawless accuracy over an 8,600 square-foot area with various stages of complexity.

Cox also explained that the company finds it easy to use rats because their size makes it less danger when combing fields for landmines.

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The rodents are taught to detect a chemical compound within the explosives and ignore scrap metal. The animals are certified after a year of training.

He works for just half an hour a day in the mornings and is nearing retirement age, but PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said his work with Apopo was "truly unique and outstanding".

It should be noted Magawa's service has directly saved and changed the lives of many people whose lives are impacted by the landmines.

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.

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