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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Explained: Who is Magawa, the first rat to be awarded a gold medal for bravery?

The PDSA Gold Medal was initiated in 2002 and rewards civilian acts of animal bravery and “devotion to duty”. It is the highest honour recognising extraordinary bravery of animals.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 26, 2020 7:50:52 am
Magawa, a mine-sniffing rat, is pictured in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in this undated handout picture provided to Reuters on September 25, 2020.(PDSA UK/Handout via Reuters)

On Friday, a rat called Magawa was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal for his “life-saving” work in Cambodia. Magawa who is an African Giant Pouched Rat and is just under eight years old, is the first rat to win this medal and was given the award by PDSA’s Director-General in a virtual presentation.

PDSA was founded in 1917 by animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin and is one of the UK’s leading veterinary charities. It operates through 48 pet hospitals across the UK and provides low cost and free veterinary care to sick and injured pets.

What is the PDSA Gold Medal?

The PDSA Gold Medal was initiated in 2002 and rewards civilian acts of animal bravery and “devotion to duty”. It is the highest honour recognising extraordinary bravery of animals.

“Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Animals sometimes display heroic capabilities in extraordinary situations. The PDSA Gold Medal recognises this,” the PDSA website mentions. The medal has been awarded to over 30 animals so far. All other recipients are dogs.

According to PDSA, Magawa has been at work in Cambodia. (Reuters)

Last year, a police dog called Bacca was given the award. In 2018, Bacca had helped chase down an assailant who smashed windows and acted violently at Bromyard in the UK. Bacca received eight wounds to his head and neck in the process.

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Why was it awarded to Magawa this year?

Since the early 1990s, a charity called APOPO has been training rats to detect landmines in Tanzania. It is estimated that over 80 million landmines are active and unknown across the world. While the African Giant Pouched Rat is much larger than the usual pet rats, but it is still light enough to not trigger a landmine by walking over it. Rats like Magawa and others whose official job title is “HeroRAT” are considered easy to train.

Magawa, a mine-sniffing rat, is pictured in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in this undated handout picture provided to Reuters on September 25, 2020. (PDSA UK/Handout via Reuters)

According to PDSA, Magawa has been at work in Cambodia – which has the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world at over 40,000 people– since over seven years and can search an area the size of a tennis court in about 30 minutes, something that would take a human with a metal detector over four days.

If the rats detect a landmine underneath because of the chemicals used, it signals to their handler, after which it is safely disposed of. Till now, Magawa has discovered over 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance to date and has cleared over 141,000 sq. meters of land (equivalent to the size of two football pitches), which makes him the charity’s most successful HeroRAT.

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