CAMBODIA—He’s not the hero Cambodia deserves, but he is the hero they need.
Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, has been given a gold medal from the People’s Dispensary of Sick Animals (PDSA) after sniffing out dozens of landmines in Cambodia.
The average African giant pouched rat lives seven years; and Magawa has made the most of those seven: He has detected 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance over his seven-year career, according to the PDSA. He’s cleared more than 141,000 square meters of land – the same area of 20 soccer fields.
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The PDSA said that Magawa was a “hero rat,” and for every landmine, “…he saves a life.” PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin praised Magawa, saying: “Magawa’s dedication, skill, and bravery are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition.
In addition to his recognition as the 30th recipient of the PDSA Gold Medal, he also earned the notable distinction of being the first non-canine to ever receive it.
The rats are chosen for their noses and speed: According to the PDSA, “When Magawa detects a landmine by the chemicals used in it, he signals to his handler. They know that where Magawa signals is the exact location because his sense of smell is so good, and so can dispose of the mine safely.” The rats are also much faster than humans. The PDSA said that Magawa can peruse an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes. That is life-saving time: that same area could take up to four days for a human with a metal detector and is extremely dangerous.
These special rats are of vital importance to places like Cambodia. According to the PDSA, in addition to the 80 million landmines in the world that are active and unknown, around four to six million of those landmines were laid in Cambodia alone during the Cambodian Civil War in the 1970s. The southeast Asian country has the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world—at over 40,000—and there have been 64,000 casualties from landmines.
For all his heroism, Magawa, it seems, is Cambodia’s, Dark Knight.
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