Magawa an African giant pouched rat with his gold metal

PDSA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

We’ve all heard of military working dogs receiving service medals for acts of valor. But last week, an African giant pouched rat (you read that right – a rat!) named Magawa was awarded a gold medal by the British veterinary charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) for his work detecting undetonated landmines in Cambodia.

Due in large part to the Vietnam war and the Cambodian Civil War, which came to end in 1975 with the establishment of the Pol Pot regime, millions of unexploded landmines litter the countryside and it’s Magawa’s job to find them.

Magawa was trained by the non-governmental organization APOPO (which in Dutch stands for “Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling,” or in English, Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development) to detect the scent of unexploded chemicals. He can clear a tennis court sized area in 30 minutes. In comparison, it can take a human up to four days to clear a similar sized area.

In seven years, Magawa has discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance, outperforming all other rats with the same detail. The Gold Medal is PDSA’s highest honor and is awarded for, “outstanding animal bravery and exceptional dedication in civilian life.”

Magawa breaks the stereotype and I think other rats owe Magawa a debt for not only his acts of valor but his work changing the damaged reputation of rats everywhere.

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