Magawa, who is now nearing retirement age, can search the area of a tennis court in 30 minutes, something that would take a human with a metal detector up to four days Credit: APOPO

Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, has sniffed out 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance in Cambodia since he was trained by charity APOPO. He is the charity’s most successful HeroRat, having cleared more than 141,000 square metres of land – the equivalent of 20 football pitches.

The UK veterinary charity PDSA has presented him with its Gold Medal for “life-saving devotion to duty, in the location and clearance of deadly landmines in Cambodia”.

There are thought to be up to six million landmines in the southeast Asian country.

PDSA’s Gold Medal is inscribed with the words “For animal gallantry or devotion to duty”. Of the 30 animal recipients of the award, Magawa is the first rat in the charity’s 77-year history to receive such an honour.

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Christophe Cox, chief executive of APOPO, said: “To receive this medal is really an honour for us. I have been working with APOPO for over 20 years.”

According to Apopo, Magawa – born and raised in Tanzania – weighs 1.2kg (2.6lb) and is 70cm (28in) long. While that is far larger than many other rat species, Magawa is still small enough and light enough that he does not trigger mines if he walks over them.

Magawa, who is now nearing retirement age, can search the area of a tennis court in 30 minutes, something that would take a human with a metal detector up to four days.

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“The rats are trained to detect a chemical compound within explosives 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,” said Cox.

PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said: “The work of Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding.

“Cambodia estimates that between 4m and 6m 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,” he added.

Cambodia has the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world – more than 40,000 people.

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