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Why Did an African Giant Pouched Rat Receive a Gold Medal From the PDSA?

There are dozens of animals we can train to help in human activities, we have police dogs, work horses, and messenger pigeons. But did you know rats are extremely easy to train too?

An African giant pouch rat, has been awarded a gold medal for his work in detecting land mines. Rats can be trained to trace chemical compounds in explosives while completely ignoring the scrap metal making mine searching go faster.

What is the PDSA?

PDSA stands for People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. This organization was founded by Maria Dickin in 1917. It is a veterinary charity that started in the United Kingdom.

Maria Dickin worked hard to improve the state of animal welfare after the first World War. She opened a clinic where poverty stricken people could received free treatment for their sick animals. She then developed the first mobile clinic for animals. Soon after, these mobile clinics were commonly seen throughout the country. (Source: BBC News)

Who is Magawa?

Magawa is an African giant pouched rat who has been awarded a gold medal for detecting land mines in Cambodia. He was able to sniff out 39 landmines and about 28 unexploded munitions in his entire career.

The PDSA granted this brave little guy a gold medal for his life-saving devotion to duty.For animal gallantry or devotion to duty

Magawa was born and raised in Tanzania. He weighs about 1.2 kg and is about 28 inches long. He quite large compared to other rat species but he is still small enough to safely walk on top of landmines without triggering them. He is able to find several mines in a large field in just 20 minutes. His trainers say, that this is something human can do in a span of one to four days. (Source: BBC News)

How Can Rodents Find the Landmines?

Rats, in general, can be trained to detect certain compounds that are only found in explosives. This way they ignore scrap and other distractions, and go straight to the mines. This makes it faster for people to find. Once the rats find the explosive, they scratch the top and alert their human counterparts. (Source: BBC News)

Who Trained Magawa?

Magawa, the seven-year-old rat, was trained by the by the Belgium-registered charity called Apopo. This organization is based in Tanzania and has been busy raising HeroRATs to help detect landmines since the 90s.

All the animals trained under this organization are given a certification. Christophe Cox, the chief executive of Apopo told the press that they were so proud of Magawa’s achievement. (Source: BBC News)

To receive this medal is really an honour for us, but also, it is big for the people of Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines.

Christophe Cox

Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.

Jan McLoughlin

How Bad is the Landmine Problem in Cambodia?

According to the NGO in charge of the mine-clearing operation, there are about 64,000 casualties and 25,000 amputees due these landmines since the late 70s. The former US President Barack Obama placed a ban on the use of landmines. In January 2020, the current US President Donald Trump, lifted these restrictions. (Source: BBC News)

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