An African giant pouched rat named Magawa has been awarded a PDSA Gold Medal for detecting 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance to date in Cambodia.
Magawa is the first rat to win the award and is one of several ‘HeroRATs’ bred and trained by Belgian NGO APOPO to detect landmines after bred for that purpose.
Since the 1970s it is estimated that between four million and six million landmines were laid in Cambodia, three million of which have yet to have been found. Landmines have killed around 64,000 people there.
Cambodia has the highest rate of mine amputees in the world, at over 40,000 people.
HeroRATs have so far found around 500 mines and 350 unexploded bombs in the country.
The landmines are largely a holdover from decades of war in the country and were planted by some factions including the Khmer Rouge.
The rats are light enough to walk over landmines without causing them to detonate.
A rat can search a tennis court-sized area in thirty minutes, ignoring scrap metal by detecting the chemical components of the ordnance. The PDSA said a human with a metal detector searching the same area would take up to four days.
In his lifetime Magawa has cleared over 141,000 square metres of land.
HeroRATs are currently also operating in Colombia, Zimbabwe, and Angola. Similar rats have also been trained to detect cases of tuberculosis.