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.


Music icon Cher meets Pakistan PM ahead of elephant’s move

Updated 27 November 2020

Music icon Cher meets Pakistan PM ahead of elephant’s move

  • The famed singer has for years campaigned for Kaavan the elephant and is helping pay for his move
  • Cher tweeted that she thanked Khan “For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia”

ISLAMABAD: American pop icon Cher met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday ahead of the relocation of an elephant from Islamabad’s dilapidated zoo to a Cambodian sanctuary.
The famed singer, who has for years campaigned for Kaavan the elephant and is helping pay for his move, arrived in the Pakistan capital this week to see the animal before the flight to Cambodia on Sunday.
“Appreciating her efforts in retiring Kaavan to an elephant sanctuary, the prime minister thanked Cher for her campaign and role in this regard,” a statement from Khan’s office read.
Cher tweeted that she thanked Khan “For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia.”
The plight of Kaavan — an overweight, 35-year-old bull elephant — has drawn international condemnation and highlighted the woeful state of Islamabad’s zoo, where conditions are so bad a judge in May ordered all the animals to be moved.
A team of vets and experts from Four Paws, an Austria-based animal welfare group, has spent months working with Kaavan to get him ready for the journey to Cambodia.
Experts have trained Kaavan to enter a large metal crate that will be used to transport the animal to the airport.
Volunteers working with Kaavan say he responds well to music and singing, and Cher is expected to belt out a song or two for the elephant before he departs Islamabad.