Usually, when we think of rats we imagine cheese-nibbling cuties in cages, scurrying sewer-dwellers carrying freaky diseases, or plump puzzle-solvers moving about in researchers' mazes or contraptions. It's not very often that we hear rats referred to as "heroes." Indeed, hearing someone discuss the heroics of a small rodent might make some of us laugh — at least at first.
A Gambian pouched rat named Magawa is one daring and dauntless rodent who earned the title of "hero." Believe it or not, Magawa was a landmine-sniffing specialist who located over 100 landmines across Cambodia during a five-year career. In September 2020, he was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal for "life-saving devotion to duty, in the location and clearance of deadly landmines in Cambodia.” Magawa is the first rodent to ever receive the award.
Cambodia is a nation that has been ravaged by civil war for decades, and because of this, it's become one of the world's most heavily mined geographic locales. Rats are employed to sniff out these dangerous explosives to help human disarmers handle them more safely. APOPO, a Belgian NGO, trains many of these fearless critters. In fact, they trained Magawa.
Magawa was laid to rest on January 12, at the ripe age of 8 after his retirement in June 2020. He leaves behind an enduring legacy of the lives he saved and a lowered risk of landmine death in Cambodia.