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A rat that sniffs landmines receives a reward for bravery



The medal, awarded on Friday, praised “life-saving courage and dedication to duty” for its work to open landmines in Cambodia. Its recipient: a rat named Magawa.

Magawa is the first rat to receive the award – a gold medal presented by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British charity often called the George Cross of the Animal, after an honor usually given to civilians that recognizes courage and heroism. . .

With Magawa discovering 39 landmines, 28 unexploded ordnance items and helping clear more than 1.5 million square meters of land in the last four years, not after the fictional rat Remy from the 2007 Pixar-Disney movie “Ratatouille”

; has a rat that has done so much to challenge public opinion about them as creatures that are more likely to be seen walking through sewers and subways.

“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children affected by these mines,” said Ian McLaughlin, CEO of the charity, which presented the award in an online ceremony. “Any discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death to local people.”

“Magawa’s dedication, skills and courage are an outstanding example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition,” said Ms. McLouglin.

It is estimated that more than five million landmines were planted in Cambodia during the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge and internal conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. Parts of the country are also littered with unexploded ordnance thrown into United States air strikes during the Vietnam War, according to a 2019 congressional research report.

More than 64,000 people have been injured by landmines and other explosives in Cambodia since 1979, and more than 25,000 amputees have been registered there, according to the HALO Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian charity for mine clearance.

Larger than the average rodent, Magawa, a 5-year-old African giant rat, is part of the Hero Rat initiative, led by the Belgian nonprofit APOPO, which works in Southeast Asia and Africa to train rats to save lives. detection of landmines and tuberculosis.

Magawa, the most successful rat in the program, was trained to detect TNT, the chemical in explosives. The ability to sniff out TNT makes it much faster than anyone in search of antipersonnel mines, as it can ignore scrap, which is usually caught by a metal detector.

He can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, while a person with a metal detector usually takes four days to search an area the size of a tennis court. When he finds a mine, he signals to his leader by scratching the ground above it. Unlike humans, the Magawa is too light to blow up a mine, so there is minimal risk of injury.

Rats like Magawa “significantly accelerate the discovery of landmines, using their amazing sense of smell and excellent memory,” said Christophe Cox, CEO of APOPO. “This not only saves lives, but returns much-needed safe land back to communities as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals has been awarding prizes for animal valor for 77 years, and the evaluation is carried out by a group of directors and trustees of the charity.

Still, Magawa’s brilliant career may soon be over, as APOPO estimates that her “Hero Rats” work in the field for four to five years, after which they receive a pension filled with games and exercise.

For now, Emily Malcolm, a PDSA spokeswoman, said the rat could be in line for a more edible bonus.

“I hear he’s attached to bananas and peanuts,” she said, “so I’m sure he’ll get a few extra treats.”


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