A landmine detection rat has been awarded a gold medal for his “lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty”.
Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, has discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance since he was trained by charity APOPO.
He is the charity’s most successful Hero Rat, having cleared more than 141,000 square metres of land – the equivalent of 20 football pitches.
Magawa has been formally recognised for his work and been presented with a miniature PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross.
He is the first rat in the charity’s 77-year history to receive such an award.
Christophe Cox, chief executive of APOPO, told the PA news agency: “To receive this medal is really an honour for us. I have been working with APOPO for over 20 years.
“Especially for our animal trainers who are waking up every day, very early, to train those animals in the morning.
“But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines. The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of landmines to global attention.”
He said rats are “intelligent” and will work at repetitive tasks for food rewards better than other animals.
Their size means they are in less danger when they walk through landmine fields.
The rats are trained to detect landmines as well as tuberculosis and require a year of training before they are certified.
They work for around half an hour a day, in the early morning.
Once they detect a landmine, they scratch the top, which alerts their human handlers.
The rats are trained to detect a chemical compound within explosives, and because they ignore any scrap metal lying around, they work faster than a metal detectorist.
Magawa, who is now nearing retirement age, can search the area of a tennis court in 30 mins, something that would take a human with a metal detector up to four days.
PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said: “The work of Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding.
“Cambodia estimates that between four and six million landmines were laid in the country between 1975 and 1998, which have sadly caused over 64,000 casualties.
“Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people.
“The PDSA Animal Awards programme seeks to raise the status of animals in society and honour the incredible contribution they make to our lives.
“Magawa’s dedication, skill and bravery are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition. We are thrilled to award him the PDSA Gold Medal.”
Cambodia has the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world – more than 40,000 people.
A virtual presentation for Magawa will take place on Friday and can be viewed online at http://www.pdsa.org.uk/magawa