A rat that is helping to rid Cambodia of the deadly legacy of landmines has become the first rodent to receive a prestigious animal bravery award, the PDSA Gold Medal.

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, received the award from UK charity PDSA – The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals – for his life-saving bravery and exceptional devotion to duty. He is the first rat in the charity’s 77-year history of honoring animals to receive the medal – joining a line-up of courageous dogs, horses, pigeons and a cat. The medal is now recognized worldwide as the animals’ George Cross, and Magawa is its 30th recipient.

Magawa the rat at work detecting landmines
Magawa at work detecting landmines © PDSA

Born in Tanzania in 2014, he grew up at a training and research center run by Apopo, a non-profit organization that trains rats to save lives by detecting landmines and tuberculosis. Magawa learned how to detect the smell of explosives using his nose, and completed nine months of training before moving to Siem Reap in Cambodia in 2016, where he met his new handler, Malen. He is now known as Herorat Magawa, the official job title of Apopo's detection rats.

Over 60 million people living in 59 countries do so in daily fear of landmines and other remnants of past conflict. Magawa has found 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance to date and has helped to clear over 141,000 sq meters of land. This has allowed local Cambodian communities to live, work and play without fear of losing life or limb.

Malen the handler with detection rat Magawa
Magawa with his handler Malen © PDSA

“The PDSA Animal Awards programme seeks to raise the status of animals in society and honour the incredible contribution they make to our lives," says PDSA director general, Jan McLoughlin. "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.”

For further information on Apopo, please see here, and for more on PDSA, see here.

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