Magawa, an African giant rat that detects antipersonnel mines in Cambodia, was awarded a gold medal for the British Veterinary Association PDSA, which each year rewards an animal for its value, although in general it is usually dogs and cats.
Trained by the Belgian NGO Apopo, Magawa can be proud, at almost six years of age, to have already discovered 39 antipersonnel mines and 28 explosive remnants throughout its career, becoming the most effective of the rodents used by this association, PDSA noted.
Their work has cleared almost 141,000 square meters of land, the equivalent of 20 football fields.
The British association rewarded her for her “courage and devotion to duty” with a miniature version of her gold medal, considered to be the animal equivalent of the Cross of Saint George, the highest civil decoration awarded in the United Kingdom.
“Receiving this medal is a great honor for us,” Apopo CEO Christophe Cox told Britain’s PA news agency. “It will draw the world’s attention to the problem of antipersonnel mines.”
Rats are intelligent animals, with a knack for performing repetitive tasks when rewarded. Peanuts and bananas is what Magawa prefers to receive. Their light weight prevents them from activating the mines when touched, explains the Belgian NGO that uses them not only for demining tasks but also, for example, to detect tuberculosis patients thanks to their fine sense of smell.
At 70 centimeters in length, it can comb the equivalent of a tennis court in 30 minutes, a task that would take up to four days for a human equipped with a detector.
Apopo trains these large rodents for a year in Tanzania, his country of origin, to learn to detect the TNT contained in explosives and teaches them to scratch the ground to signal its presence to the humans who work with them. This technique allows you to work much faster than with a metal detector.
Thus, at 70 centimeters in length, Magawa can comb the equivalent of a tennis court in 30 minutes, a task that would take up to four days for a human equipped with a metal detector.
With its 45 trained rats, Apopo has already neutralized more than 83,000 antipersonnel mines. According to PDSA, between 1975 and 1998 between four and six million mines were laid in Cambodia, killing more than 64,000 people.
You can see Magawa in action starting at 6:33 in this video.