2-Foot-Long Rat Wins Gold Medal for 'Bravery'

Magawa has a rather scary job in Cambodia
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2020 9:30 AM CDT
Rat Wins Gold Medal for His 'Skill and Bravery'
In this undated photo issued by the PDSA, People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, Cambodian landmine detection rat Magawa is photographed wearing his PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, in Siem, Cambodia.   (PDSA via AP)

Not a big rat fan? Meet Magawa. The furry two-footer received a gold medal Friday for his work detecting land mines in Cambodia, NBC News reports. "Magawa's dedication, skill and bravery are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition," said Jan McLoughlin, head of People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, the UK veterinary charity that awarded the medal. Magawa has detected 39 land mines and 28 bits of unexploded ordinance over four years, and can scour a tennis court-sized area in half an hour—work that takes a person as long as four days, per the New York Times. Magawa is also too light to detonate a land mine. Trained to sniff out TNT, he disregards scrap metal and alerts his handler to a mine by scratching the nearby ground.

That's useful in a country where an estimated 5 million land mines were laid during internal strife between 1975 and 1998, mostly up north near the Thai border. US forces also littered areas with unexploded ordnance during the Vietnam War, per a congressional report. Since then, the explosives have injured or maimed tens of thousands of Cambodians and rendered a good deal of agricultural land unsafe to farm. Enter Magawa, who has already cleared over 1.5 million square feet of land. "Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people," said McLoughlin. On the lighter side, the African giant pouched rat is said to snack on watermelons, bananas, and peanuts, and likes napping during breaks. "I'm sure he will be getting a few extra treats," said a PDSA spokeswoman. (More land mines stories.)

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