After sniffing out land mines in Cambodia, Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, was awarded a medal from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) for his hard work and bravery.
Sniffing out land mines is not new to Magawa—according to PSDA, over the course of the last seven years, Magwa has cleared over 141,000 square miles. When Magwa finds a land mine, “he saves a life,” said PDSA. When Magawa detects a land mine, he stops, looks up, and scratches his head as an indication.
Since rats are much smaller than other animals, they are able to avoid setting off the land mines. Additionally, rats’ strong sense of smell makes them a suitable candidate for this task.
Rats are also much faster than humans at finding land mines. One rat can search an area the size of a tennis court in approximately 30 minutes, whereas that could take a human several days using a metal detector.
During the announcement of Magawa’s award, PDSA’s director-general stated that “this is the very first time in our 77-year history of honoring animals that we have presented a medal to a rat”—and it doesn’t seem like it will be the last time since these rats will continue to be used to locate landmines. APOPO, a nonprofit organization that uses rats like Magawa to help clear Cambodia of land mines, hopes that rats like Magawa will be able to clear all land mines in Cambodia by 2025.
According to PDSA, there are 80 million unknown and active land mines in the world. In Cambodia, about 4 to 6 million were laid down in the 1970s alone, which has caused 64,000 deaths.