Mine-detecting 'hero rat' receives medal

Giant rat Magawa has been given a medal for its mine detecting work in Cambodia.
Giant rat Magawa has been given a medal for its mine detecting work in Cambodia.

A specially trained "hero rat" has received a gold medal from a British charity for helping detect deadly landmines in Cambodia.

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, received a miniature gold medal from animal welfare organization PDSA during an online ceremony on Friday for its work in the once war-torn country over the past seven years.

Magawa has discovered 39 landmines and 28 other left-over explosives to date and helped clear more than 141,000 square metres of land - the equivalent of 20 football pitches.

PDSA head Jan McLoughlin said the award recognised the animal's extraordinary "dedication, skill and bravery."

Magawa is the most successful graduate of Tanzanian NGO Apopo, which since the 1990s has been training so-called HeroRATs to detect chemicals emanating from the explosives and alert a handler.

Rodents like Magawa, slightly larger than an average household rat, are light enough to avoid setting off the landmines.

Magawa can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes.

Magawa is the first rat to receive a PDSA award, which honours the contribution of animals to people's lives. Previous winners have included dogs, horses, pigeons and a cat.

Cambodia was left littered with unexploded munitions from decades of war.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre has cleared more than two million since 1992, though estimates say millions more remain in the ground.

Australian Associated Press