Rats get a bad rap. But these little rodents are smart and tough and resourceful, especially HeroRAT Magawa, the landmine-detecting rat who just won the PDSA Gold Medal award for his live-saving work.
PDSA is the UK's leading vet charity. The organization provides millions of vet treatments every year to animals in need. The PDSA Animal Awards Program recognizes the bravest, most distinguished animals in society each year. They give out four medals and commendations each year to honor animals who've displayed exceptional "bravery and dedication to duty." And this year is the first year they've ever given an award to a rat.
Look at him! Magawa's official title is HeroRAT because he is a hero who happens to be a rat. PDSA explains that APOPO, a charity in Tanzania, has been training rats like Magawa to detect landmines for about 30 years. "It's estimated that there are still 80 million landmines around the world which are lying active and unknown," they write.
Magawa, an African Giant Pouched Rat, has been trained to detect landmines. His species is important because while he's larger than the average pet rat, he's still light enough that he wouldn't set off a landmine by walking over it.
Rats like Magawa are trained using a clicker and treats, which he was rewarded with when he got near something that smelled like the explosive chemicals used in landmines. Magawa passed his training very easily and was sent out to work in Cambodia.
Magawa has been detecting landmines for five years, and he's extremely good at his job. He's able to search an area as big as a tennis court in 30 minutes, "something that would take a human with a metal detector up to four days," PDSA writes.
When Magawa has detected a landmine, he signals his handler, and then they can dispose of the mine safely. It's not an overstatement to say that Magawa has saved lives. Hidden mines in Cambodia have caused 64,000 deaths, and the country has the highest number of amputees per capita in the world.
Magawa has discovered a total of 39 landmines and 28 "items of unexploded ordinance" in his work so far, making him the most successful HeroRAT in the charity's history. He is more than deserving of his Gold Medal for bravery and dedication.
PDSA even designed a tiny medal that Magawa could actually wear. PSA Awards and Heritage Manager Amy Dickin told Bored Panda that everyone was "incredibly" excited to bestow this tiny honor on Magawa.
"Because of the impacts COVID has had on the UK — and wider world — our original presentation plans had to be completely re-worked. Meaning Magawa actually brings two first to PDSA — the first rat honored with a PDSA Medal and our first-ever virtual presentation. We're thrilled to be shining the spotlight on his amazing work and can't wait for everyone to see him in action!"
PDSA Director General McLoughlin said, "HeroRAT Magawa's work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women, and children who are impacted by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.
The PDSA Animal Awards program seeks to raise the status of animals in society and honor the incredibly contribution they make to our lives. Magawa's dedication, skill, and bravery are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition. We are thrilled to award him the PDSA Gold Medal." I think I speak for the rest of us when I say we, too, are thrilled that HeroRAT's like Magawa exist and are sometimes awarded with teeny, tiny medals for their giant bravery.