Thursday, May 30, 2024

Magwa, the Rat, is hero in detecting mines & explosives; As long as peanuts keep coming

Remember the Disney-Pixar “Ratatouille”- a story of a rat who aims to champion the special over the ordinary. The film gives us the greatest representation of how a rat grows in his art- fall and builds himself back. But that was more than a decade ago, in 2007. Now 2020 has its new rat hero- Magwa, a 5-year-old African giant rat. On Friday, Magwa was awarded a prestigious honour for detecting mines and explosives in Cambodia.

Magwa received a gold medal from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a veterinary charity in the United Kingdom. It was for the first time in the 77-year history that one of Britain’s highest animal honours has been awarded to a rat.

“Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Animals sometimes display heroic capabilities in extraordinary situations,” the PDSA website mentions.

Magwa has discovered almost 39 land mines and 28 pieces of unexploded ordnance and helped clear more than 141,000 square meters of land (equivalent to the size of two football pitches) over the past four years.

Jan McLoughlin, the director-general of the charity, while bestowing the award in an online ceremony, says Magwa’s work has directly saved and changed the lives of individuals who are directly impacted by the local mines.

She said, “Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for the local people… his dedication, skill, and bravery are an extraordinary example of this and deserve the highest possible recognition.”

According to the reports from the Congressional Research Service, several parts of Cambodia are littered with unexploded ordnance and there are more than five million land mines which have been laid in Cambodia during the ousting of the Khmer Rouge and internal conflicts of the 1980s and 1990s.

Magwa is a pouched rat, larger than the average rodent, and is part of APOPO, (Anti-Personnel Landmines Removal Product Development), a non-profit based in Tanzania that trains rats like Magwa to find landmines. The rats, who the organization refers to as HeroRATS are the only animals that can safely detect landmines because of their lightweight and sense of smell.

They’re also much faster than humans at finding the landmines. PDSA said Magwa can search an area of a tennis court in 30 minutes, which could take a human with a metal detector up to four days, and unlike humans, Magwa is too light to detonate a mine, so there is minimal risk of injury to them.

APOPO’s Chief executive, Christophe Cox says, Rats like Magawa “significantly speed up land mine detection using their amazing sense of smell and excellent memory… This not only saves lives but returns much-needed safe land back to the communities as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”

However, the glittering journey of Magwa may soon come to an end as APOPO estimates that their HeroRats only work for four to five years and after that, they are given retirement filled with play and exercise.

But for now, as PDSA spokeswoman, Emily Malcolm says, “I hear he’s partial to bananas and peanuts, so I’m sure he will be getting a few extra treats.”

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