Remy, from the movie Ratatouille, is a rat that knew how to cook. Mice have traveled to the space station as part of a science experiment. Rodents have been found in homes where they are more pest than pet. But there’s one category that you don’t often associate with rats: awards. And not just any award, but an award that recognizes animals for their “extraordinary bravery and exceptional devotion to duty.” Cool, right?
PDSA is the organization behind these awards and recently recognized the work of a rat. Considered a hero, Magawa, an African giant pouched rat also known as HeroRAT, has been awarded the PDSA gold medal for his work in detecting landmines in Cambodia. Unlike humans, who take up to four days to find landmines in an area the size of a tennis court, Magawa takes approximately thirty minutes.
Magawa is part of a group of HeroRATs specifically trained to detect these dangerous mines that have caused tens of thousands of injuries in Cambodia. How does Magawa detect these landmines without setting them off himself? Although HeroRATs can reach up to three feet in length, they weigh only an average of two to three pounds. Because they’re so light, even if they step on a landmine, they’re not heavy enough to set one off. Furthermore, an organization based out of Tanzania, called APOPO, trains HeroRATs to detect the scent of landmines and rewards them when they are correct in identifying these scents. Magawa was (one might say) one of the best and brightest of his class. He went to work in the field when he passed every detection test. Since he began working in Cambodia, Magawa has detected thirty-nine landmines that have been safely removed. Thanks for your service, Magawa!
Side Note: Landmines are a type of explosive used in times of war. These explosives are either placed above or below ground. When a vehicle or person steps on a landmine, it explodes. Cambodia is known to be the country with the greatest number of landmines, causing tens of thousands of injuries every year. It’s estimated that several million landmines have been buried in Cambodia.