For the first time in its 77-year history a British animal welfare organisation has awarded a gold medal for honorable service to a rat, an African Giant Pouched Rat named Magawa working to detect landmines in Cambodia.
In 2016, the same medal, also known as the animals’ George Cross, was awarded to the beloved German Shepherd Killer who tracked more than a hundred poachers of rhino in Kruger National Park.
Magawa has discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance to date in Cambodia and transformed the lives of the country’s citizens. He is the the most successful HeroRAT of the charity APOPO, who pioneered the landmine-detection rat training in the early 1990s. During his career he has helped clear over 141,000 square metres of land (the equivalent of twenty football pitches), making it safe for local people.
The PDSA gold medal, one of three awarded by PDSA and the most prestigious animal awards in the world, has been given before to horses, pigeons, dogs and a cat. PDSA said that its mission is to raise the status of animals in society, and show what heroes they can be.
“Without these heroic creatures, countless human lives would have been lost.”
The HeroRAT programme that was pioneered by APOPO is based in Tanzania, where Magawa was born, raised and trained. The programme has since it was founded impacted more than a million lives, according to CEO Christoper Cox. No rat has died during the work, according to APOPO, because they are too light to trigger a mine.
The HeroRATs are ideally suited to detect the mines, because they are light enough to not set them off, and they can smell them.
Cox said that the rats are well treated and loved by their handlers, and after they have retired go to a rat retirement home.
PDSA, like all welfare organisations, has been hit financially by the COVID pandemic. Should you want to donate to them, please click here.