Cambodian Rat Receives Award for Sniffing Out Land Mines

Credit: PDSA, via Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Boy, that’s not a headline I was expecting to write out today.

During internal conflicts in the 80s and 90s, numerous land mines were laid throughout Cambodia. Anyone who knows what a land mine is knows that’s a problem; any innocent soul could take a wrong step in a seemingly empty field, and suddenly the day gets a lot more tragic. There are experts who specialize in mine removal, but it’s a very slow, dangerous process. Thankfully, mine removers in Cambodia have an unexpected ally on their side: an African giant pouched rat named Magawa.

After receiving explosive detection training from Belgian nonprofit APOPO, Magawa was loaned out to Cambodian officials about four years ago to begin the grueling work of demining fields. When he detects the distinctive smell of a mine or other explosive device, Magawa will lightly scratch at the ground. If he were a human, that’d be extremely dangerous, but since he’s so small and light, he can do so without triggering an explosion. Since he began his work, Magawa has successfully detected 39 land mines, as well as 28 pieces of undetonated ordinance. With Magawa’s help, Cambodia has successfully cleared and reclaimed over 1.5 million square feet of formerly dangerous land.

For his bravery and hard work, Magawa was awarded with a gold medal from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British charity that recognizes the courageous among us (though typically it’s for humans).

Credit: PDSA/PA Wire

“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these land mines,” said Jan McLoughlin, the director general of the charity. “Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.”

“He is very special to me,” said Magawa’s handler Malen. “He has found many land mines in his career and saved many lives of the Cambodian people.”

APOPO’s bomb-detection rats typically do their work for four to five years, after which they get to spend the rest of their lives in play and leisure. Emily Malcolm, a spokesperson for the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, promised Magawa will receive a large payout of his favorite treats: bananas, peanuts, and watermelon.

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