Magawa the landmine-detecting rat awarded medal for 'lifesaving bravery'

The rodent has been awarded a miniature PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross.

A rat used to detect landmines in Cambodia has been awarded a gold medal for his outstanding service.

Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, has discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance since he was trained by charity APOPO.

He is the most successful rat ever trained by the charity and the first rat in its 77-year history to receive a miniature PDSA Gold Medal - the animal equivalent of the George Cross.

Cambodia has the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world, more than 40,000 people.

APOPO Chief Executive Christophe Cox said: "To receive this medal is really an honour for us. I have been working with APOPO for more than 20 years.

"Especially for our animal trainers who are waking up every day, very early, to train those animals in the morning.

"But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines. 

"The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of landmines to global attention."

He said rats were suited for landmine detection because of their intelligence and size, meaning they are in less danger when walking through landmine fields.

The rats are also trained to detect tuberculosis and require a year of training before they are certified.

Magawa is the most successful rat ever trained by the charity (Picture: PDSA).

Working for around 30 minutes each day, a trained rat will scratch the surface of the ground to alert the human handlers to the presence of a landmine.

The rats are trained to recognise and sniff out a chemical compound in the explosive in these devices, working faster than conventional metal detectorists as they ignore scrap metal.

Magawa, who is nearing retirement age, can search the area of a tennis court in 30 minutes, a feat that would take a human up to four days.

PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin said: "The work of Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding.

"Cambodia estimates that between four and six million landmines were laid in the country between 1975 and 1998, which have sadly caused more than 64,000 casualties.

"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," she added.

"The PDSA Animal Awards Programme seeks to raise the status of animals in society and honour the incredible contribution they make to our lives.

"Magawa's dedication, skill and bravery are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition. We are thrilled to award him the PDSA Gold Medal."

Cover image: Magawa, with his PDSA Gold Medal (Picture: PDSA).