A rat is being honored with one of the highest awards in the animal world after he has potentially saved numerous lives for clearing landmines from fields in Cambodia.
Magawa, an African Giant Pouched Rat, was awarded a gold medal from the PDSA, a British veterinary charity, for his work over the past seven years leading to the detection of 39 landmines and 28 unexploded items and clearing more than 20 soccer fields in the process.
The rat is the most successful in the history of APOPO, a charity organization that has trained him and other rodents since the 1990s to detect landmines.
"This is the very first time in our 77-year history of honoring animals that we will have presented a medal to a rat," said John Smith, the chairman of PDSA.
The PDSA has awarded its gold medal to 29 other animals, all dogs, for "animal bravery and exceptional devotion to duty." The medal for Magawa was specially designed to fit onto his work harness, said Jan McLoughlin, PDSA's director general.
APOPO rats like Magawa undergo training from a young age, and it's safe for them to work in landmine detection because they are light enough not to trigger the explosives, said Christophe Cox, CEO and co-founder of the charity.
To train the rodents, handlers reward them with treats for finding a target or walking on a surface, eventually leveling up the training to rewarding them for smelling explosives.
Rats make good landmine detectors, too, because they are quick. Magawa can clear an area in 30 minutes that would take a human four days, Cox said.
"The rats cannot miss any landmine," Cox added. "We really trust our rats, because very often after clearing a minefield, our teams will play a game of soccer on the cleared field to assure the quality of our work."
In Cambodia, around three million landmines remain hidden, and tens of thousands of people in the country have died or been injured, often causing amputations, from the unexploded mines.
"Magawa is a true hero rat," McLoughlin said.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rat Magawa gets PDSA gold medal for detecting landmines in Cambodia