Hero rat trained to detect explosives awarded high animal honors

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A Tanzanian-born African giant pouched rat has received one of Britain’s highest animal honors on Friday for his ability to detect dozens of landmines in Cambodia and to have saved lives.

The rat named Magawa was given an animal bravery award and received a gold medal from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a veterinary charity in the United Kingdom; he is now the first rodent to earn the distinction.

Name: 

Magawa (MA-GOW-AH)

Sex: 

Male

Date of birth: 

5 November 2014

Job title: 

Mine Detection Rat

Birthplace: 

Morogoro, Tanzania

Current Location: 

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Length: 

70cm

Weight: 

1,230 grams

Favourite food: 

Bananas and peanuts

Personality: 

A determined worker and always friendly

Amazingly, Magawa and several of his rat friends were trained to identify landmines and alert their human handlers in order for the mines to be safely removed. In the last four years, Magawa has helped to clear over 1.5 million square feet of land finding 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance.

Magawa has his own work harness and can work quickly. He and other specially rats have been bred for this purpose. This little hero was born in Tazmania in 2014, socialized and moved to Siem Read, Cambodia in 2016 to begin his bomb-sniffing career.

As for training, the handlers use positive reinforcement with food rewards for accomplishing their tasks. They are taught scent discrimination – choosing explosive smells in order to earn a reward. Although rats have poor eyesight, their sense of smell and their light weight make them especially desirable for the work – they are too light to set off a mine, their cue is to lightly scratch a bomb when they find one indicating to their handler the location of a bomb.

According to APOPO, the rats are rewarded with bananas, and to their credit more than a million people have been freed from the fear of landmines. On weekends, the rats get special feast meals and once their skills wane, they are sent to rat retirement homes where they live out their lives playing and eating.

The honor was held in a virtual ceremony. Previous honored animals included dogs, pigeons, horses and a cat.

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