Landmine detection rat wins top UK animal bravery award

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, has received a prestigious gold medal from PDSA for his work in detecting land mines in Siem Reap, Cambodia. (AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2020

Landmine detection rat wins top UK animal bravery award

  • Magawa, who was trained by the Belgian charity APOPO, has sniffed out 39 land mines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance
  • He can scurry across an area the size of a tennis court in just 30 minutes, something that would take four days using a conventional metal detector

LONDON: Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. A five-year-old giant African pouched rat called Magawa, however, has to be one of the world’s most unlikely life-savers.
The rodent has won the animal equivalent of Britain’s highest civilian honor for bravery because of his uncanny knack of sniffing out land mines and unexploded ordnance.
British veterinary charity the PDSA on Friday awarded Magawa its Gold Medal “for his life-saving bravery and devotion to duty,” which had transformed the lives of people in Cambodia.
Magawa, who was trained by the Belgian charity APOPO, has sniffed out 39 land mines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance, making him the organization’s most successful “HeroRAT.”
“The work of HeroRAT Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding,” said PDSA director-general Jan McLoughlin.
“HeroRAT Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these land mines.”
Millions of land mines were laid in Cambodia between 1975 and 1998, causing tens of thousands of casualties.
Magawa, based in the northern city of Siem Reap, is the first rat to receive a PDSA medal in the 77 years of the awards, joining an illustrious band of brave canines and felines — and even a pigeon.
The PDSA Gold Medal is the animal equivalent of Britain’s George Cross. The charity also awards the Dickin Medal, for military animals.
APOPO trained Magawa in his native Tanzania to detect the chemical compound within explosives by rewarding him with tasty treats — his favorite being bananas and peanuts.
The rats alert de-miners by scratching the earth.
He can scurry across an area the size of a tennis court in just 30 minutes, something that would take four days using a conventional metal detector.
He is big enough to be attached to a leash as he goes about his business but light enough not to set off mines.
“The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of land mines to global attention,” said Christophe Cox of APOPO.
Cox said its team of “HeroRATs” speeded up land mine detection because of their keen sense of smell and recall.
“Unlike metal detectors, the rats ignore scrap metal and only sniff out explosives making them fast and efficient land mine detectors,” Cox said.
“This not only saves lives but returns much-needed safe land back to the communities as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”
APOPO currently has 45 rats finding land mines and 31 detecting tuberculosis in Africa and Asia, according to its website.


No-go for Joe Exotic: Donald Trump’s pardon list omits ‘Tiger King’

Updated 20 January 2021

No-go for Joe Exotic: Donald Trump’s pardon list omits ‘Tiger King’

  • Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in federal prison
OKLAHOMA CITY: One name missing in President Donald Trump’s flurry of pardons is “Tiger King” Joe Exotic.
His team was so confident in a pardon that they’d readied a celebratory limousine and a hair and wardrobe team to whisk away the zookeeper-turned-reality-TV-star, who is now serving a 22-year federal prison sentence in Texas. But he wasn’t on the list announced Wednesday morning.
Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in federal prison for violating federal wildlife laws and for his role in a failed murder-for-hire plot targeting his chief rival, Carole Baskin, who runs a rescue sanctuary for big cats in Florida. Baskin was not harmed.
Maldonado-Passage, who has maintained his innocence, was also sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records. A jury convicted him in April 2019.
In his pardon application filed in September, Maldonado-Passage’s attorneys argued that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others. Maldonado-Passage, 57, is scheduled to be released from custody in 2037, but his attorneys said in the application that “he will likely die in prison” because of health concerns.
Maldonado-Passage’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
The blond mullet-wearing zookeeper, known for his expletive-laden rants on YouTube and a failed 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial campaign, was prominently featured in the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”