In Brief

Gold medal for bravery awarded to Magawa the bomb-sniffing rat

The hero rodent has helped landmine charity to root out deadly explosive devices in Cambodia

Rats often get a bad rap, but now one heroic rodent is being hailed for his work in sniffing out landmines in Cambodia.

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, has been presented with the PDSA veterinary charity’s Gold Medal - described by The Guardian as the “animal equivalent of the George Cross” - for detecting a total of 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions in the formerly war-torn Southeast Asian country. The miniature medal is inscribed with the words: “For animal gallantry or devotion to duty.” 

Magawa was trained by Tanzania-based charity Apopo, “which has been raising the animals - known as Hero Rats - to detect landmines and tuberculosis since the 1990s”, the BBC reports.

The seven-year-old medal-winner is Apopo’s “most successful Hero Rat, having cleared more than 141,000 square metres of land - the equivalent of 20 football pitches”, adds the Daily Mail.

He is also the first of his species to be awarded the medal by PDSA in the London-based charity’s 77-year history.

Apopo chief executive Christophe Cox said that “to receive this medal is really an honour for us. Especially for our animal trainers who are waking up every day, very early, to train those animals in the morning.

“But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines. The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of landmines to global attention.”

According to landmine clearance charity The Halo Trust, “over 64,000 casualties and more than 25,000 amputees have been recorded” in explosive accidents in Cambodia since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

The trust says that although “around half of Cambodia’s minefields have been cleared”, the remainder are largely concentrated in an area near the Thai border that is known as the K5. 

The area was heavily mined to stop people from crossing the border to escape the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which is believed to have killed almost two million people during a four-year reign of terror.

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