Magawa, a 5-year-old African giant pouched rat, was recognized with a prestigious honor for his work detecting mines and explosives in Cambodia.
The medal awarded on Friday lauded the “lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty” for work detecting land mines in Cambodia. Its recipient: a rat named Magawa.
Magawa is the first rat to receive the award — a gold medal bestowed by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British charity, that is often called the “animal’s George Cross” after an honor usually given to civilians that recognizes acts of bravery and heroism.
Not since the fictional Remy of the 2007 Disney-Pixar film “Ratatouille” has a rat done so much to challenge the public’s view of the animals as creatures more commonly seen scuttling through sewers and the subway: Magawa has discovered 39 land mines and 28 pieces of unexploded ordnance, and helped clear more than 1.5 million square feet of land over the past four years.
“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these land mines,” said Jan McLoughlin, the director general of the charity, which bestowed the award in an online ceremony. “Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.”
“Magawa’s dedication, skill and bravery are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition,” Ms. McLoughlin said.
More than five million land mines are thought to have been laid in Cambodia during the ousting of the Khmer Rouge and internal conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. Parts of the country are also littered with unexploded ordnance dropped in United States airstrikes during the Vietnam War, a 2019 report from the Congressional Research Service found.
Since 1979, more than 64,000 people have been injured by land mines and other explosives in Cambodia, and more than 25,000 amputees have been recorded there, according to the HALO Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian land mine clearance charity.
Larger than the average rodent, Magawa, a 5-year-old African giant pouched rat, is part of the “Hero Rat” initiative run by the Belgian nonprofit APOPO, which works across South East Asia and Africa, training rats to save lives by detecting land mines and tuberculosis.
Magawa, the most successful rat to have taken part in the program, was trained to detect TNT, the chemical compound within explosives. The ability to sniff out TNT makes him much faster than any person in searching for land mines, as he can ignore scrap metal that would usually be picked up by a metal detector.