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This giant rat earned a prestigious animal hero award. Here’s why

Magawa, the rat, sniffs out landmines in Cambodia

SHARE This giant rat earned a prestigious animal hero award. Here’s why
In this undated photo issued by the PDSA, People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, Cambodian landmine detection rat, Magawa is photographed wearing his PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, in Siem, Cambodia.

In this undated photo issued by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, Cambodian landmine detection rat Magawa is photographed wearing his PDSA gold medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, in Siem, Cambodia.

PDSA via Associated Press

For the first time, a rat has won the U.K.’s most prestigious animal hero award.

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, was awarded a gold medal for “life-saving devotion to duty, in the location and clearance of deadly landmines in Cambodia,” by the U.K. veterinary charity PDSA, according to BBC News.

Before Magawa the past 30 recipients of the awards were dogs.

The medal is perfectly rat-sized and can fit onto Magawa’s work harness. It is engraved with the words, “For animal gallantry or devotion to duty.”

Magawa was trained by the Belgian nonprofit APOPO in Tanzania to sniff out explosives. With extensive and carful training these rats learn how to identify landmines and alert their human handlers so the mines can be removed, per Fox News.

“It’s completely safe for HeroRATs like Magawa to detect landmines and they’re very intelligent animals so are easy to train. Magawa began training from a young age after being bred by APOPO for this purpose,” the PDSA said.

There are thought to be over six million landmines located within Cambodia and throughout his career Magawa has found 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions, making him one of the most successful rats, according to NPR.

“The rats are trained to detect a chemical compound within the explosives, meaning they ignore scrap metal and can search for mines more quickly. Once they find an explosive, they scratch the top to alert their human co-workers,” according to BBC News.

They can search an area as big as a tennis court in about 20 minutes, something that would take a human around one to four days.

According to the APOPO CEO Christophe Cox, the rats have saved over 1 million people from living in fear of landmines. And the rats are well treated with bananas as rewards, feasts on the weekends and once their skills wane they get to go to a rat retirement home, per NPR.

“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines,” Jan McLoughlin of APOPO told BBC News.  ”Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.”